Cold Still
      for my family on the inside

giant steel doors creak
slide and lock
silence echoes down empty fluorescent
I rub my hands together
researching my own guilt
as I recognize my inability to distinguish
the chill in the air
from my fear
from my loathing

unk caught a dime and a half
cousin dookie did a nickel twice
baby brotha, a frequent felon
struck out last time
and is now pumping iron
in the belly
of one of these twenty-first-century Amistads

last night
in a basement chapel
sharing poetry and praise
with the residents of the men's
federal prison system
I looked into the faces
connected to the collars
tied to the numbers
married to the hands
holding on to mine
and I saw unk and dookie
and baby bruh
chained to familiar nappy smiles
and noses
and I squeezed

this one holds two thousand
chants the Polish priest
as we cross the yard
after thirty minutes of security checks
metal detectors
infrared passes and written
and verbal agreements to not transport
weapons or other contraband
interrupted only by the reprocessing
of men in shackles and cuffs
and a rubber-gloved three-hundred-pound guard
lifting a senior noncitizen
out of a VA-supplied wheelchair
for a semidiscreet body cavity search

it is cold here
and the added draft created by the echo
of heavy steel doors
opening and closing
lowers the windchill factor
so I squeeze these baby brothas' hands
exchanging dap for unk and dookie

I squeeze for warmth
for all their loved ones on the outside

I squeeze out of guilt
ashamed of my own freedom
that I have taken for granted

what I cannot say with words
I squeeze into these cousins and uncles
and eyes
and they gather 'round and listen
like I'm some infamous escape artist
come to sing the freedom song
but I'm just a poet
and these are just words
not keys or dynamite
just words
not pardons

but if you rub them together
you can start a fire and right now
that's what we need
'cause it's cold here
it's damn cold on the inside
so I squeeze back
my tears
and we get warm

© Frank X Walker, Black Box, Old Cove Press, 2006