Texas Ruby Red
First Prize Award Winner
By day I wander the brooding prison yard, trampled and
degraded by murderers, pimps and thieves. Through the night,
as I study the ancient carved inscriptions of names and verse,
the walls of my cell divulge a kind of a dreadful catechism
encrypted in stone. And yet I also recognize an august chronicle
of my ancestry when I read the names "Julien, Crimson Nick,
Fleecy Taggert, Chalky Fenn" and others. It is the catalogue of a
despoiled filiation through which I can trace a corrupt lineage.
My cellmate sleeps and over his bunk I read:
Under the ground
my mother lies,
Under the cot
the warden spies,
Over the wall
the prisoner flies,
Beneath the bridge
the prisoner dies.
I know the story of each of the others, but no one can tell me
who Pirogue was and how he came to be in prison.
My cellmate turns in slumber and I think of the dainty, almost
prim way he walks down the stairs. He is a murderer and has
such contempt for me that, although we have shared this cell
through the years, he has never spoken my name. Yet tonight I am
compelled to stroke his sleeping pillow and tenderly graze his
coarse blanket with the back of my hand. Only then can I fall
onto this iron cot and return to my warm dream of annihilation.
Later my hand will bleed from a connubial wound as large as the
thorn on a rose.
First published: February 1997