Editor’s note: While Charlie was in solitary in April (for no reason), he took some productive breaks from writing grievance forms and appeals and climbed that poem tree, putting voice to several he found there. We hope you enjoy them.
#1 WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
One morning when my mother was busy tending the baby
I slipped a butter knife from the kitchen drawer for protection
while I took a forbidden walk in the deep woods behind our house.
At first it was fun, exploring narrow trails, picking ripe berries,
listening to birds calling and squirrels chittering, getting thirsty,
bending down and sipping from a clear stream, startling a resting deer.
Imagining myself to be a brave warrior hunting to feed my tribe,
making noises and slashing bushes with my shiny dull knife,
scaring off any creatures before I saw them, I thought this was paradise.
Among the tall pines, wide oaks, hickories, sweet gum and persimmon,
knobby crabapples, I could play forever without a care,
until my stomach grumbled and I worried I’d be late for lunch.
When I turned back, the trees all looked the same: dense, uninviting;
instead of being my friends, they seemed to hem me in.
I was lost in the dark woods with no idea which way was home.
I told myself I was a big boy, though at six I fought the urge to cry.
wandering, confused, I turned this way, then that, afraid at last
that I might never be found, condemned to starve or be eaten by bears.
Then I heard a quick rustling of leaves, sounds coming nearer, I feared
the worst, but instead appeared my dog, “Little!” I cried, while
he wagged and twisted and licked my face of tears of joy.
He kept looking back as he led me home, as though concerned I might
wander off again, but soon our yard and house appeared, my mother
at the back door, asking, “Where have you been? Are you hungry, boy?”
#2 NEXT YEAR
I twiddle the heart-shaped seed,
turn it lightly, study the black stripes
that define it, debate whether to crack
it open between my teeth. Instead,
on impulse I bend down, shove the seed
into the warm soil, and walk away.
Soon a struggling green sprout emerges,
awakens to the bright sun, and every day
I pass to mark its growth until, like
Jack’s magic bean, the husky stalk with
its billowing leaves reaches my height
with little concern for the attentions of men.
At first a meager closed head atop
a massive leaved trunk, facing the earth,
the bud begins to swell. In days it
rises toward the eastern sky, enclosing
petals open, revealing yellow glory within.
Before long it becomes a mighty sunflower.
Outshining every garden bloom, the queen
summons humble bumble bees to attend her,
sharing pollen and nectar with the swarms
who seek her bounty, seeds fattening with oil.
Tired now, weight too great to hold up, the
head turns again toward the ground beneath.
One day I see a sparrow gripping a dry
leaf next to the bulging cache of seeds, hanging
upside-down, pecking, pecking, heart-shaped
striped seeds raining to the soil, where other birds
gorge themselves. I tickle some seeds into my
hand, enough to save for sunflowers next year.
#3 FOUR WHITE WALLS
Four white walls
This is no time for claustrophobia.
Get over it.
Be strong or give up.
There is no air.
You run your fingers over the grill
that passes for a window
There is none,
Only a bare whisper of warm air.
The sliding steel door
slams shut. Clang!
You are locked in.
Only a sliver of bulletproof glass
allows a look out at the other catacombs
of the living.
Why is the glass bulletproof?
We have no guns.
They do. Get off the door!
Or I’ll write you up.
What does he mean, get off the door?
Don’t let them see you
looking out, someone whispers,
Don’t let them hear you
It’s against the rules.
Nurse is coming
to see if you’re still alive.
Sitting upright is proof enough.
Don’t look at her!
well past its sell-by date.
They shaved your head
when you came in chains.
Dehumanization process began.
Don’t talk, don’t look,
one tells you.
How long do I have to stay back here?
you ask. Someone answers,
Until you die.