At the Prison
Ron Riekki

we wouldn’t talk
much. We’d talk
about how we hated

the job while we were
at our job for the fifth
straight night, the night

refusing to talk
to us and the prisoners
lying there, alive,

but we had to check
to see if they were alive
and we weren’t sure,

so we’d ask each other,
Is he alive? And we’d
look in the cell

at the man on the floor
trying to tell
if he was breathing,

but it was like this
with all of them,
the impossibility

of telling the sleeping
from the dead,
but in the morning

they would always rise
and they’d all start talking
at the same time so that

the prison sounded
like the tantrum
of zits popping,

and we’d close
the nursing station
for some quiet

that didn’t come,
the echoing making
its way inside

and someone would say
Everyone in a prison
is a prisoner.

But not everyone
outside of a prison
is free, and the barbed wire

would talk to the birds
and the birds would speak
by leaving and returning

and leaving and returning
as if to mock the walls and fence
with their dedication

to a separation
that always, in the end,


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