Summer 2004 vol 3.2
Orientation Sketch with Key, Inmate 122054, Wynne Isolation Unit, Texas Penitentiary System
Robert Hill Long
is my mattress with the white sheet and beneath it

the steel bunk bolted to the wall so it don’t shake even when I can’t stop

the concrete floor that wakes up my feet, sometimes my head

represents me drawing, coloring, rolling a cigarette, drinking coffee, reading old books, magazines; smiling at photographs, meditating; laying back against the pillow, preparing for recreation period. I don’t do walking in this 9x5. I think of you all walking out there, just walking down a long sidewalk without no time-bell

is not a door, it should be seen as a wall with plenty of ventilation and no privacy. I want sometimes not to be seen, reasons for wanting this are endless as what I been deprived of

the meeting hinge or piece that meets and stops the steel when it opens so I can stretch and go out on Row

represents seven bars up and five wide that move right to let a man out a little, move left to clang him back in. It was bars like these in the death house that I shoved the tin cup through, the one I fed my dick into. After sawing it off with a piece of glass I give it to the guard to take to the warden and say, If your right hand offends cut it off, Well, I give you the one thing besides my mind which offended someone

is the prosaic washbasin. Call it prosaic cause it is obvious, common and dull but a luxury in the last 20 years of my inside life, and so is

the flush toilet. Another white thing is

the wall to my left. Nothing like hogwash or whitewash to make a dirty place look clean, and real economic, all you free black correspondents would just love it

the ceiling not so high over my head is white too. Whitey’s always overhead, ain’t he? Ain’t he just there when you don’t expect him at your right hand like

the right wall as I sit on my bunk is only a foot from my shoulder as I write this back to you and your sidewalk friends who I’d like, too, if I could get there to shake their hands and walk alongside

is the prison gray blanket to put on the prison bunk when it is prison cold, which is about half the year. A different cold than sleeping under November Texas stars, or a tincan trailer couch, or even a broke-window warehouse flop

is the shelf they let me paint blue and white to think about heaven which for me is your postcards of waterfalls and coastlines and little harbors where they sell taffy and boiled shrimp and sugar corn

represents things I got done with and thrown down to the floor, dirty socks, magazines I read 30 times and memorized, empty tobacco sacks and my body junk I can’t draw small enough to show, but it’s the only actual parts of me that get free of here––snots, dandruff, toenail bits, hairs that fall when you’re not doing nothing but breathing and waiting

goes beyond the cell, it’s the gangway that leads to the walk-yard, the cafeteria, the doctor where I get my teeth out one by one

is what I was when I left one world and come to this view of windows composed of glass and wire squares surrounded by iron, windows that
         even now      I don’t attempt to draw

Vesica Piscis

The space after Jesus the child prodigy and before Christ the perfected man: that’s the ellipsis. Youth: a wandering amnesia, a kind of absence…? Three periods for the lapses of biographical time, and a question mark overlooking them like a shepherd’s staff.

In the earliest icons he’s in relief, seated in a vesica piscis, an elliptical space for one. His horizontally extended arms and flattened palms balance the sharply tapered top and bottom, these extensions clearly imply the cross. And also maybe the predecessor of the cross: the intersection any life makes with the horizons of past and future, the familiar steepnesses of spirit’s sky and body’s underworld—

God’s crosshairs aligned on your heart as you drive toward another funeral, or recall, in a wan, computer-lit cubicle, a really good beach kiss.

But this Jesus appears to offer a divine shrug. The kind of shrug a son gives—unshaven, grime-headed, oniony at the kitchen door—when his parents demand to know what he’s been doing the past several days. How would he answer? I tried being human, and it killed me?

His eyeballs are uncarved, they have the glazed almond emptiness of boys I knew who got heavily stoned beneath Crystal Pier and stared too long at solar glare wavering on green Atlantic swells. The beach patrol found one naked at the uninhabited north end of the island, he had dug a sort of cave under the dunes.

He was chewing on glasswort when they drove up, with half a razor clam he was carving into his leg symbols he knew from a Led Zeppelin album. He’d lost a nice lump of hash while he slept, but sleep was just another enemy; the devil had come to him in the shape of a manta ray and a nurse shark. Atlantis, he told them, luminesced beneath his body in the black surf, all these tiny ephemeral lights, like New York City glimpsed from the moon.

He had begun to break a few weeks earlier. He stood up in the smoking area at high school and announced, “I always knew I was going to be Secretary of the Interior….” He beamed into my Marlboro-haloed face, tears shining. The words that followed this prologue were insane, but he looked happier than anyone I had ever seen.

He had just finished the first day of his new life, handing out Children of God pamphlets in the school parking lot.

Maybe Christ’s uncarved eyeballs are rolled inward, like an epileptic’s. Maybe divinity is a series of seizures translated into fate.

Where do you find him once he stops looking at you? Under a rock, one claimed he said, with the earwigs and millipedes. In wood you split for kindling, so the pentecost talks tongues of flame from your fireplace. In this way and that, he intimated he would be everywhere, waiting. So why not as a nurse shark?

Why not as the flaring ellipses the sun writes on oily swells lapping the uninhabited north end of your island, and no patrol looking for you in the one hundred ten degree heat?

Why not as the razor clam in your hand, that carves ellipsoids into your leg as though it’s your piece of monumental stone?

Vesicant, next-door neighbor to vesica in the dictionary, is anything designed to produce innumerable blisters. A chemical warfare agent used to destroy both outer and inner tissue.

Once the vesicant is detonated—given optimal atmospheric conditions—everything at ground zero and downwind means one thing. One question and one answer for childhood, youth, old age, godhead, this life and the next. The skin and the lungs, the eyes and the throat will all know the same word at once, though the word will be insane and the speaking of it a thousand small fires.

The need to cry out strong as the impossibility of speech. Each blister an eyeball that sees nothing but blind pain. Or else beholding, inside itself, a tiny sea where Christ is walking away—

We have no hard data. All we have is what scientific theory affords the imagination.

And what imagination, with a shrug, gives back to its devils.