On her way to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Sister Mary Aloysius
Drove past many signs: Earthworms Here. Have Many Rabbit. Calicos
In Burlap Sacks for Free. There were wooden crosses, some upsided
From a weird wind of such flaccid heat
Through miles of nothing much—until a shrewd
Of cottonmouths braided in a knot so vast
Across the asphalt She had to stop the car.
She waited as they wound and ragged and sieged their way across
The two-lane road, and then she traveled on.
Rafters of Slack Turkies. Nurse-Cow’s Pail. Push hoes, malt forks, unrusted
Mangleknifes. Here is the sheriff in his hammock on his clutter-land
Not quite yet woken from his dream of herding
All the Negroes out to anywhere
Sister Mary Aloysius carried in her pocketbook
A blue transistor radio (with hymns, which lived inside) to the man
Waiting in the heat and soil of the death house in Angola not too far ahead.
The warden would, in short order, confiscate the thing.
Music, it is known, he said Stirs the emotions.
As it stirs my emotions, too.
I cannot bear to hear it anymore.
Myself, I listen now only to the sound
Of right-wing radio at home and on the roads because it quickens me,
Keeping me abroad, awake, and chary by its miscreance and gall.
From time to time a rogue joy overtakes me
And I fall off the wagon of my diagnoses (pernicious melancholias), obtuse
And unappeasable to my own warden and
My pyschopharmacologist alike. A bougainvillea-colored cloud
Stays in one quadrant of the sky.
I’ve come down with
The woolly horribles.
I have fantods, I have rabbit, I have shame, even far from here—
In the Corridor. Where I am safe and warm and white.
I have listened to the Freedom Caucus in our House
Of Lords recite by heart
The full text of Green Eggs and Ham
In the filibuster of the over and the over and the over once again.
In my nightmares all of heat and red, of the Rorshachs of their throats
In the shapes of lumpy garnet yams, I am of
My country, it is not of me.
Image from the gouache on panel painting, “Open Space,” by Larry Moore.