Having Served His Time

Russian Prison by Sebastian Lister.

The model prisoner
edges his way through
the narrow gap between
the lock stile of the gate
and the high prison wall
and has his first look
at a pavement that doesn’t
belong to anyone
in particular, where rules
are so lenient, the hardly
amount to rules. He puts
his left foot out and down
against it (the way all marches
begin), and it doesn’t
give way like a trapdoor,
no bells or buzzers
or sirens, no loudspeakers,
no spotlights. His right foot
follows slightly ahead,
and he’s officially
back in the free world
which didn’t exist, which doesn’t
exist even now. He moves
both his legs, one after
the other, pretending this
is legal exercise
permitted, even required
by regulations. He keeps
close to the outside wall,
in the shadow for as long
as it lasts, then at the sharp
end of it where the sun
rebounds from the concrete
and glares up through the whites
of his open and shut eyes
to see what he has to say
for himself or anyone else,
yet keeping his mouth shut,
he puts his correct, corrected
left foot down on it.

—David Wagoner