Communally Bound

by D. Antwan Stewart

In the early Sunday morning drowse
of the Travis County Jail,

paired off, handcuffed,
each to another & shuffling

in our over-sized flip-flops, we make our way
to court, waiting for the judge to appear

in his choir robe, yawning & wringing his eyes
of sleep between reading, one by one, the charges

we each face. I’m handcuffed to a man
who’s light-skinned—redbone we’d call him

in the ghetto—who insists on scratching
his balls each time the judge pauses

to allow Spanish translators to repeat charges
the non-English speaking are facing,

whether or not the court should contact the Mexican
consulate, & so forth, & it seems redbone

has made a game of this—at once enticing & irritating—
like so many men I’ve met outside these court room walls.

He might as well be any one of them, except the tattooed
tear below his right eye suggests he’s not

one given to sentimentality—a perpetual crier—but he’s a murderer
—yes, that’s what the tear means—& I wonder

what circumstances brought him to such depths
of human frailty—to kill a man & have forever

stamped on his face the night it all went down—
a drive-by shooting, a knife wedged between someone’s heart

& lungs somewhere in a black alley, the possibilities are endless—
& I shake my head, chuckle, knowing the crimes

he’s committed far supersede the drunk-
driving charges he’s now facing, & no one’s the wiser

save those who can read symbols on a man’s face
& know he’s completed a rite of passage,

a Bar Mitzvah of the ghetto variety, though
how does my second-degree felony charge stack

against his crimes, I wonder—me, who prefers Pinot Gris
to malt liquor, me who sautés & brines, writes

the moon into a story of unrequited love, me who witnesses
tufts of pubic hair wiring their way upward each time

he scratches himself, pondering
if it could ever work out between us.

Or is it the bond of incarceration that bonds us
as we are wrist-bound to one another, as if

we are indeed a portrait of perfect compatibility
—his Eliza Doolittle to my Professor Higgins.

Though of course, this is mere fantasy,
synapses snapped in the brain preventing

mind’s access to rational thought—
though in bearing this,

I’m choked with grief, knowing this is the end
of our courtship, & I must touch everywhere but where

our wrists are communally bound,
kiss his lips, that lone tear, awaken him

from the life that’s led him to this place.

D. ANTWAN STEWART received his MFA from the Michener Center for Writers, where he was a James A. Michener fellow in poetry. He is author of the chapbooks The Terribly Beautiful and Sotto Voce. Other poems appear in Meridian, Callaloo, Bloom, Poet Lore, Seattle Review, DIAGRAM, and others.