There are immeasurable ways to count days: on the median the sunflower tracks UV streams: east to west then sleep; an acorn gets weeded out of the common area ‘til another live oak drops a bomb then sprouts till, yanked away again; azaleas blossom white, pink, and fuchsia against the wall, celebratory. Or is it celebulant: a celibate celebration of the body constrained, pale and flushed and leaved? Confinement does this, forces flesh to read itself in new ways.
Cell blocks and cornices of cinderblocked light. A gap between floors. A level of
sunshine. Constraint. Bars that clank / clamor / kerchunk.
English only, the social worker insists. But I know there aren’t enough words in any single language to transliterate the terragraphies these souls have travailed. Traversed.
Translate again? Digame otra vez.
Name, age, residence (for some home constantly shifting as “last known address where they’d meant to meander to”; for others home remains fixed as “this dump or the next cell”). Race (pues soy lo qué soy, qué mas decir?) – no, I mean black white or other – (pero soy indio-Hispano, mexicano, salvadoreño, algo sin nombre: qué quieres que yo sea?) – just tell me your
And by race they mean to run away. By race they mean escape: the constant distinction of skin when skin is all we have and all we own and none of us think any the less for one pinky versus another. All just blood and bones beneath skin while the sounds and bleats of wake-up / shower / exercise / feed / game / hunker-down / stroll / dinner / lights-out / bunker / sleep all get called out like a metronome, some busted-up liner notes from someone else’s record because this can’t be me.
Now. At the Detention Center, there is no distinction between jail and prison and cell-u-lotary encampment. Only windows and bars and the knowing of not leaving.
And as an enumerator working from the outside in I tabulate after lunch with the warden—a meal of Caesar salad, chicken Francaise, pasta Carbonara—a tallying of constituents, a collaboration of figures, every one or zero in a cell transfigured into a datum for statistical configuration: mark the forms, check the rosters, cross off names ID’d as numbers. Compile stacks and sheaths.
Collect data. Then leave.
Outside the leaves the azaleas not knowing which angle to bloom, the weeds not clinging to grass, the cement sidewalk untumbling itself beneath thrusting oak roots, steel bars cloistering the parking lot.
A clutter of compartments. Navigate the zoolike turnstile (because it’s only one way in / single file). Then stumble back to my car that’s curbed beneath the bridge that isn’t really a bridge: even the streets lie incarcerated, the layer of asphalt and concrete above Eisenhower Avenue: highways overpasses pillars roadblocks and the wandering orange cones that demarcate lanes, restrictions, segregate left from right. There are innumerable ways of reading a life: laws, road signs, reticence, rights.