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The First Four Days

September 7, 2011

by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

|
 I thought there’d be bars in here
but the plexiglass pen doesn’t allow
that sliver dream of privacy or shade
                            as if there were a sun 
  where windows aren’t allowed

The window bars drag patterns on the wood
floor beside my futon
                                    that twist and curl.
Soon I’ll know what time of day I’ve woken up
                               by the fatness of the heart.

||
 I tell the man who sleeps above me
I didn’t do it
                          he tells me
to get a job in the kitchen
so I can eat the scraps
and buy better soap

         My roommate’s making something spicy.
The wok sizzle seeps under my door.
                 I wait to wash my dishes
until she’s asleep.

|||
 I’d rather have a number than my name
tongue-&-toothed in mouths above blue
polyester draped arms that wear the gloves
No one says they’re innocent
          while they’re being searched in here

No one has said my name in nights
“Chinese delivery.” ”Four-fifty-seven.”
                                      is all I’ve heard
   since he said my name
and Shh. 

||||
 I tell the man who sleeps above me what I’m in for 
He laughs and calls me a BAMF
                                                      Why would I tell him I’m innocent?

 Standard greeting back to work: 
what did you do with this long weekend?
                  Tell them:
                                      rest.        Why would I want to explain 
there’s no point in reporting
crimes you can never prove?


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Since completing her MFA at New College of California in 2004, Elizabeth Kate Switaj (website) has published Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press), Shanghai (Gold Wake Press), and The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems (Ypolita Press). She is currently an Editorial Assistant for Irish Pages and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast.

  1. Paul Digby
    September 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    The delivery of this poem is… wonderful!
    I love the dual side of this reading. The modulations in the song-like sections are magical!

  1. September 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm
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