The first time I walk into one of the jailhouses on Rikers
I have to remind myself to breathe. Not only is the stench
of unwashed bodies and mess hall food suffocating,
but I can't focus what's happening.
Lines of convicts waiting for barbershop, dozens of eyes
sweeping over me, I watch myself try to glance at them casually.
They can see right through you dog, they know you're green as hell.
We're close, our shoulders almost brushing as I walk by
and force myself to look at each of them. The woman
who brought me here says she couldn't make eye contact
with any of her students her first few days on the island.
On the third day a soft-spoken Jamaican student called
her to his desk and said, Miss, don't be scared of we pirates.
She looked into his bloodshot eyes softened by contraband
weed and smiled.
Inmates scrutinize me behind masks of cement
and jagged scars, one of them a crescent running
from below an ear to the corner of a mouth, a smiley it's called,
raised keloid tissue pale on darker skin. I remember as a kid
I'd rub the sienna birthmark on the inside of my left thigh
and hope it would always be there.
University of Massachusetts Press