A Poem: Four Men at Mule Creek State Prison

Four Men at Mule Creek State Prison


By Mitali Perkins


He puts on his bifocals and opens the family Bible. For two hours, he reads verses of hope to her in quiet Tagalog. A handkerchief, embroidered by hands buried far away, receives her tears.


She sprints across the room at the sight of him. He scoops her up and she kisses his clean-shaven cheek two dozen times. Her beribboned braids hide his tattoo as he bends to long-kiss her mother on the mouth. You’re given two times to touch — one twenty-second hug at first sight and one more before the last. But the Christmas tree is tinseled. A guard chews a microwaved cheeseburger from the vending machine and looks the other way.


His ponytail is graying. Their two chairs sandwich his like white toast on ham. Her ancient eyes memorize the silent features; his father’s are hidden behind one age-spotted hand. Who will be his bread when they are gone?


Our man is an orphan at twenty-two. His mother died in a fire last year, after her thirty-sixth birthday. He asks for a book on how to write cursive. I get out in twenty-thirty-two, he says. Abuela wants me out of Oakland. I'll need a signature of my own.

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