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In My Cell

by Tiffany Andersen

I rest with tired hands beneath my head, waiting for the sunlight. It sneaks past the prison gates, shuffles between the layers of angry wire and testosterone, shimmies through the narrow whitewashed courtyard, and leaps lightly over my small windowsill, dashing itself on the bars opposite my bunk, where it dances for a moment, singing, then crumples in a muddy heap on the concrete floor. This is my dawn.

I have seen this same sunrise for so long that day or month or year matters not. It is repetition, continual cadence. This place captures even the morning light. And each evening, the rays of golden sun die, crammed in the cracks with the dust and dirt of every man’s decayed ideologies. This is my hell.

Don’t ask me why I am here. I can’t tell you that. My voice won’t bring forth the words. Like the bars of iron enclosing me, I enclose my tongue with bars of solitude and hopeful salvation. If you don’t know, I can protect you. To announce my crime to you, to throw it out into the air and let it spin without stopping, to free it even between these four walls, would mean the end. The end of me, the end of you, the end of all. It is not so simple. What frees one man imprisons another. Who cares if your sentence is self-imposed. Is it any less a prison if you swallow the key yourself? I will be the warden and keep you safe.

I will not.

What I have done, I have trimmed branches. I have pruned bushes. I have removed stumps. I have landscaped in a way that moves the world one step closer to the original garden. I have been an excellent gardener. As have you, but we will not speak of it. Hold still for a moment so it may pass. I have planted flowers, too. I have taken up my spade and trowel and moved the earth as one should, and I have not planted in simple rows. And that, I think, is truly why I am here, my perceived “crime.” I conformed to the chaos. Order was evoked and I ignored it. I followed the master plan beneath my breastbone, realizing once the seeds had been sown — too late! — that no one listens to the rumble of the ground anymore. I have fed and fertilized and now I live without.

It is the noisy moments that are the hardest. I can deal with the creeping quiet, the silence that harkens me back to the soil, the call to assuage my need for earth. I am a gardener. It is home. But in those loud times when these walls shake with anger and drip with the vomit and spittle and semen of men posturing, of children dreaming, of women lost, and of worse... of the three churning together in that hateful crash of lustful ignorance of the breastbone plan... it is then, then that I curl into myself and trytrytry to lose myself in the rhythm. It is not easy. And then there is you.

Faith rests in the shadow of the curve in the back of the knee. You can find it there in those loud moments, those most-ordered times. Some kneel. I bend and crouch, gracefully, to move it along, to squeeze the juice of life from it. That soft crease is a magic place. It is those that walk upright, that shuffle without the stoop, who lose it without ever feeling its presence.

These days, these days, these days. I mark them with my foot. I will pass all this on soon, let it go and turn the soil over, wash my muddy hands and give up. I can’t cultivate concrete. You know. When I look in the mirror, I see old. I see time. I see what will never become. I think I should be grateful. I should feel the confidence in concrete. The re-righting of the tilted earth. Instead, I see a face I do not recognize. An end to an unfinished legacy. An ignorance of the truth. A plan pulled from the textbooks and newspapers and offices with chairs that bend and classrooms with children who don’t and labs where skulls are split so mine won’t and needles in the grass and gardens that lack the divine the necessary the painful. I see a face that is not my own.

It is yours.

Copyright © 2008 by Tiffany Andersen

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