Florence by Billy Sedlmayr

Hometown evenings burn off into smoky haze. Rising up
like the Phoenix bird from its disengaged concrete tombs, set
free up and down these tiers by smoldering mattresses and coarse
woolen blankets.

It was the distortion of their monotony that had us by the
throat again. “You fuckers are on a subliminal trip to nowhere,”
and you see, there’s only one record the man plays from the
tower, a crackling invasion of space with its amplified
mediocrity, pretending to be temporary but never going away,

“Baker 10: Time’s up in the shower. George 13: Take it
in. Abel 6: Get up, get dressed for disciplinary. Attention, C.B.I:
Pictures off the wall. Shit off the bars.”

“They’re cuttin’ clotheslines, homes. Henry, IDA down.”

“Stand by to stand by for chow. George 13: Now! Take it
in now. Last warning.”

It’s a goddamn three-ring circus and even now your will
is not that strong. Take me back, back before hell. I must be
starting wrong. Back to where dawn changes everything.

I could not find a voice on land so I crept in like a thief,
looking to come clean, a way out when I wound up here. The last
great equal opportunity employer. A hanging tree from which no
one is exempt.

Toilets overflow. Cursing in Spanish. Sally port opens
rambling back against its track, a bragging domino smacks
metal, the hinges of this existence.

“COUNT!” Commissary mirror tracks the ex-military
clipboard checkin’ off men like bowling pins in wait.

The morning light comes in from air vents crudely
stuffed into the southwest corner of each cell, as if — as if it was
some after-thought.

The area of my life is roughly eight by ten and when day
breaks, is announced from some far-off distant shore. It smells of
Skoal long-cut, Brut, pepper spray, cuffs and keys. The changing
of the guard.

The first line of light, there are those who turn to sin.
Stingers bubble and heat instant coffee. Black and muddied with
the blood of iron and electricity.

Pigeons gather, unsteady their click, tap on the iron
serape burned clean with holes, some a quarter inch thick. A sip
of water from the toilet slash sink, dirty brown and always warm.

Feet find the floor, cold. And I am dreaming again of
miles and miles of pure clean snow that will never see a fence.

The unrest of season’s change. Spit-shine brogans, my
workshirt pressed under large books never read.

The indoctrination into nothingness becomes allconsuming.

A calendar from two years ago sits upon my metallic
desk, where the carvings of those who came before pass over my

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