The Prison Guard at Philippi
Tania Runyan (bio)

At night they should become less
than the animals they are, like the mildew lining
these piss-splashed walls.
They should lay down their matted heads,
be still and know the piled dead
decomposing in the corner.

To shift is to scrape the shackles
that wake your brethren to their lust
for bread. To struggle is to rust the metal
with your sweat. No telling how deep the cuts
when the blood runs in the darkness, when your wounds
stick to your partners' in chains.

And what foolishness to give breath to singing
when the air is scarce, to shout to a god
as your lungs fill with phlegm! As if
he would peer into the midnight of thieves,
reach down into these huddled bodies
swarming with maggots and lice.

It's enough to make the earth break open,
the walls collapse, and oh—
the inmates stepping over the twisted bars
with shackles hanging—
It's enough
to make anyone want to die.



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