Home > Imprisonment > Eleven Times A Loser, he said.

Eleven Times A Loser, he said.

June 20, 2011

by Rina Terry

He counted them off,
conviction by conviction,
bid after bid, by fingers, thumbs,
his body drawing itself up
straight and tight
and stiff
and then for that final one
formed his hand into the shape
of a gun and pointed it
at his right temple
and held it there

a very,   very   long time

“Eleven,” he said,
and his eyes, as he turned to salt
before my gaze, held a blankness
that brought no tear of sympathy
but a shortness of breath,
as though this steel and concrete
world no longer lived by oxygen.

In whatever co-existing valence
we dwelt for those moments, the Shift
Change meant resuming normal
posture that could not be construed
as anything more than sitting
in a chair, in the chaplain’s office
for a one-on-one

he recollected himself
slid into the his usual pose:
shoulders back and down,
chin dropped
to unclench the jaw
(just the faintest hint
of muscle spasm at the side
of the face where things hinge),
one leg stretched out long
and wide apart from the other.
The even wider, wider smile
as the officer tells him
his time is up.


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Rina Terry lives, writes and works in Cape May, New Jersey.

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  1. June 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Chilling.

  2. Tony Press
    June 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Yes, indeed. Beautiful, but chilling! Thank you for this.

  3. Barbara LaMorticella
    June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Yes, chilling! — Exactly the word that first came to me after reading the poem! The icy transmutation of a human being effectively conveyed in a few words.

  4. July 2, 2011 at 9:34 am

    That description of the “muscle spasm at the side/ of the face” is so striking to me. I’ve seen it a million times (most of those times in prison) and hadn’t thought of it till now.

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