Attica 1977

A skull

my friend says, it's like
you're inside a skull
.
And then I feel the pressure
the way the ceilings push down.
I hunch up,
tuck my neck into my shirt.
The deeper I go in
the more the tunnel narrows.
The first time I didn't know
the soft yellow patches
in the wooden beams
filled with plastic wood
were bullet holes.
Yeah, Mustafa said,
you need to look up,
see what's around you
.
 
*
 
Near Christmas, the class was small
two men were locked down, and the others
off the count—too late to make it,
so only three men showed, Shea
laughed, pulled out
a thin jailhouse joint.
We smoked it there,
watched the snow fall in the yards,
outside.
And then we read
to each other, the words
spinning out.

*
 
On my way home
I skidded in the drifts—
first left, then right
until the tires grabbed.
I thought of the floodlights
and the snow-filled yards, tiny barred windows
aglow in the storm.
I thought of the troopers in the rain
that September day, the rifles, shotguns,
poking out above the walls, waiting.
I think of the Convent of the Capuchins
in Rome,
where the monks led us
into their cavern of 4000 skulls,
intricate figures reshaped from the fallen,
a grinning dance of death.









Gerald McCarthy was born in Endicott, New York, the eldest son of an Italian mother and Irish–American father. He left home at age seventeen to join the Marines, served a tour of duty in Vietnam, then deserted the military. After he was released from military prison and civilian jail, McCarthy worked as a stonecutter, shoe factory worker and anti-war activist. Later he attended the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop and taught writing at Attica Prison and in migrant labor camps, jails and schools. Trouble Light, a new collection of his poetry, will be published by West End Press in October. 
(Note: the opening line of "Attica 1977" is from a poem by Dave Kelly, and the title is borrowed from a poem by Sharif Lateef, aka Raymond Chunn). 

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