Red Mountain Press

Home Robins Facing South Can't Be Helped Contact


The jailer raised his foot high, as if he was going
to scale a fence only he could see, as if
to goosestep to a drumbeat only he could hear.

He raised his foot to the shackled prisoner
seized by a deputy to the right,
a deputy to the left,
and kicked him square in the back,

once, twice, and then again
until they all disappeared into
the darkness of a chamber,
sanctuary of a jailer with the grin
of a rattler that has cornered its quarry,
the one who tolerated the presence of a lawyer
apprentice visiting the iron-barred bowels of
the courthouse.

The jailer drives home that night,
breaks bread with his children,
slowly drops his hand beneath the table and
rubs his right thigh to soothe the ache in his muscles.

Past groups of Sunday parishioners
he threads his way toward the altar.

He returns Monday,
pins the badge to his shirt,
tucks his shirt into his pants,
rubs the dread on his face,
pushes a button on the elevator panel
as he waits to sink to his job.

I thought about the advice given by
my elders, my storied mentors, battle-scarred
defenders of the indigent accused, as I looked into their
weary faces, the bloodshot eyes, and watched their
chain-smoker-stained fingers thump the air to punctuate their
pronouncements on the matter.

I thought about what they said, that next Sunday,
as I sat near the altar.
And I thought about it again on Monday,
straightening the knot on my tie,
standing by the elevator,
pushing the basement button,
rubbing the dread from my face,
smoothing out the harsh words of wisdom I had been given:

Keep your mouth shut.