by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back
I remember the day, alone in the bathrooms
you raised the uniform's tattered hem above your breasts
and showed me the roses tattooed on your chest
dark whorls unfurling around the puckered scars of entry wounds
where bullets sang through flesh, once
and sank themselves in bone
stopped short by some blind fate from silencing, forever
the heart's sharp tongue.
To know prison is to know a world
too small to hold love's absence.
In the solvent light of operating theatres
of interrogation rooms
you wept behind the mask of a stranger's face
as all that you once owned was peeled away
the grand strip-tease that comes
at the end of it all.
When snow's greyed lip pulls back from city sidewalks
I will return from this place
changed and heavy
shuffling like a sleepwalker in the sallow warmth of winter sun
while the bark and rattle of automatic guns
still echoes in the dark
behind your eyelids
every time the cell doors slam.
Freedom, my tenuous concession
I would give it all away to see you turn to smoke in their hands
a gust of torn paper eaten to lace by flames
carried high above the razor wire's clawed coils
houses, castles, roads, stone walls
all swept away in the wake of your passing
and swallowed back
into the blessed, healing night.
Kelly Rose Pflug-Back's poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in places like Goblin Fruit, Counterpunch, This Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Broken Pencil, and many others. Her first book of poems, These Burning Streets, is available from AK Press. She is also a contributing editor with Fifth Estate Magazine, America's longest-running anti-authoritarian publication. She wrote this poem while she was in a women's provincial jail, serving an 11-month sentence for charges related to a protest in Toronto in 2010.
Photography: Inside H Block 4, by Still Burning.