This morning, I am certain the earth pulled me down more strongly, as though gravity needed to reassert itself, having lost someone in its grip to the virus, a common complaint as we stumble through still another year.
I fought it off course, the birds in the wetland at once admiring my effort and laughing at what they knew would ultimately be a futile gesture.
You belong to the earth, they said, you arose from it, are bound to it and it is a matter of time before it reclaims you as it does with all.
It was easier, they added, in ancient days, when the gods truly cared, for then you need only sufficiently irritate them before they would sever your earthy bonds to serve eternity in a celestial prison.
You can take my sight, but my mind will still see what it must, and my fingers will become eyes. You can take my hearing, I will imagine what I must, and my eyes will become ears. You can take my tongue, but my body will shout what I must, and my hands will speak volumes. The only thing you cannot take is my words, for without them my prison would be complete and I would be rendered mute, deaf and blind, and that is a fate from which I could never hope to emerge.
I was twelve at the time, would have chosen to be anywhere but there. I hated visiting her at home, but this took my disgust to a whole new level. We were never close, never would be, she so old, so old world, so unlike anyone I had known, so like the women sitting outside the old hotels on South Beach waiting for a wave or death, whichever first flowed in, life having long ebbed. The room as I remember it was barren, bleached to a lack of any color, the bed a white frame, white sheets, a small white indentation staring up at the ceiling, up at heaven, and everywhere what I imagined were steel bars through which we and the doctors and nurses could pass, but which held her tightly within, serving out what remained of her ever shortening life sentence.
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.
Krevchinsky froze his ass off on the Siberian plain. The gray concrete box was traded for concrete gray skies, the whistle of the truncheon gives way to winter’s blasts. It was in many ways easier when the beatings came neatly marking the days dividing days between pain and exhaustion, all under the watchful eye of the meek incandescent sun dangling from the ceiling. In the camp day and night are reflections of an unseen clock, seasons slide from discontent to depression. The prison of the body is finite built block on block, the prison of the soul is vast, empty, dissipating life.
First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).
She imagined what it must be like to have wings. She always wanted to be unmoored from the ground, to be free of its incessant pull, to look down on it from high above, and not with aid of contraption, just her, arms outstretched. The ground was a prison. She could move about, yes, but never really free, that sixth direction always denied to her. The sea was as close as she could come to true freedom, the sandy bottom dropping away, but the water was an imperfect atmosphere. She finally found the courage and stepped free of the cliff, felt the wind beneath her, the earth below falling away and coming up under her. She flew on until the alarm clock ended her flight.
The hardest prison to escape is the one whose walls are built by the mind in fear and trepidation. It is like the open gate you dare not enter fearing that you are leaving and will not be allowed to return. Atop a pole there are an infinite number of directions in which you can go and only one is straight down, but you fear selecting any, for gravity is a fear as great as death, yet you can feel neither. The prison of the mind is impregnable, for there fear and pain live in conflict and you are a small boat on an angry sea staring always at the roiling waves.
If the night sky contains no moon has the sun gone out? It is like a garden within a fence, do the flowers dream of freedom or are we the prisoners kept out from the world within their golden petals? A strong wind carries off the answers.