By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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Last year, first thing, the two women who moved in next door spent all weekend
putting up a postholed stockade fence, then, smacking their hands, asked
if I’d foot the cost of weatherproofing my side.
Fair enough, yet caught short, I demurred, and we have not spoken since,
half-waves sometimes, eyes cast down as we lug the groceries in,
their side of the fence glowing in the afternoon light,
mine graying and green at the base.
They brought two dogs, Doberman, Dalmatian,
built a run, the loosing and howling now regular as rain, as sun,
morning barking means the mailman any second,
evenings rolling over, murmuring Jesus, going back to sleep.
Last week skidding tires, the thump one knows as impact, assuredly,
the black and white blur gone right for the road like a Michigan hound,
no holding her, as if she had always waited for this,
and the women right behind, too late, crying, No, no, no, no,
left holding their broken dog like a double Pietà, the car pulling away,
stopping, then moving again, slowly, not a thing to be done,
not a word that would heal or matter in the least.
Tonight the quiet hanging in the yard, the Doberman nipping and snuffing at the air,
as if he wants to speak, can’t remember what to say.
And tonight my brother has gone to hell again, his stunted wife in a home,
his house up for sale, the sign on his lawn like a shame.
He wanders, he says, drifts from place to place,
like a father who has lost a child to the sea
and will not be comforted, pacing to and fro with the tides and debris.
I don’t know what to say anymore, the daily news, the steady saw.
The words stand around unemployed in my throat, like shirts, frozen,
left out on a line, or dogs in a yard, the family gone away.
I am the quick brown fox’s lazy dog. I lift my head. I look the other way.
And my cousin with AIDS comes to Gloucester next month,
what words for him who will not last the year? What words after that,
when even the chrysanthemums might be moved enough to speak?
And this photo pressed into my hand today, me, long-haired, sixteen years ago,
outward bound, a little like Jesus in training, crossing on a rope
over watery water, calling to someone I can’t even remember,
the words so lost by now they must have turned to shadows, pieces of leaves
against a rusty fence, or souls broken up gone out to black holes.
And this, what pilots say most often before they crash.
Not God or Oh, God. One does not look for lord or love in such an angled sky.
Not Father, forgive them. Who could say that again,
having leaped from one’s nails to the edge of the world?
Not Mother, more for soldiers, perhaps, hugging their helmets,
or digging the earth gone wet with their weeping, their wounds.
No canticle at all, no litany.
Oh shit, we say, as if we’ve always been in it,
this ground, this stink, this awful place,
the earth coming up at us like the right hand of God,
us seeing it coming. Oh shit, we say,
oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.