That summer of rain I was a seminarian and visited the Osborn State Correctional
Facility. Metal gates opened, closed, like legs crossed and uncrossed. On the mental
health ward, behind a small meshed window, a naked man, wrapped in a bed sheet,
posed like Constantine crossing the Milvian Bridge. Men hummed in their cells, sticky,
strong from barbells. The men had black, brown and white skin, many covered with
intricate tattoos like road maps. One seminarian collapsed and was taken to the
nurse’s office. One inmate had lost his arm and smoked a cigarette with his hook.
Connecticut became thick with rain. It was impossible to tell the time as if the rain had
removed the clock’s face and hands. Rivers rose, gardens failed. Water collected in the
sticky zodiacs of the spider’s web, incarcerating flies. The landscape went from dense
buildings to grass and copses. Tree-trunks were finger-painted brown-green streaks.
The Carolina wren returned to the chokecherry tree—voluble, curious, an evangelist
missionary. The male returned first and constructed several nests with feathers, mud
and twigs. The female inspected and threw out his sticks and sang, “Begin again.” The
male sang two hundred and fifty repetitions until a nest was settled upon and the
fledglings came while rain hammered the daisies’ papery petals to bits.
On Osborn’s hospice wing, a large mural of angels covered the porous cinder blocks;
their wings were the size of church doors. The angels were white crudely-rendered
females with open hands and voluptuous faces. There, in a wheelchair, was an American
Indian with advanced Parkinson’s; his face was a mysterious country, his face like
Sitting Bull’s face—resignation? relief? triumph?—after he won the Battle of the Little
Bighorn and had entered those rodeo shows with Wild Bill to tour Europe.
This poem originally ran in the August 4, 2011, issue of the magazine.