Back seat travel
sitting next to my sister
watching the trees fly by outside my window
like a forest going by on a very fast train.
Sleepy thoughts floating in and out
between daydreams and reason.
An eternity away to nine year old me.
I watch the window
stare up into the sky
and wish I could fly
Free and happier than anything
to taste the clouds
and feel the wind blowing against my face
while smiling like crazy
I can fly.
I wake up and we’re almost there.
The car stops at another red light.
I’m a little scared of whatever is up ahead
We pull into the drive and I wish I could shrink away inside my seat
until I’m invisible.
Guards stand watching in towers higher than the trees in my neighborhood.
Eyes searching everything.
I can see their rifles shining in the hot afternoon sun
My heart beats so hard I’m afraid they can hear it.
The fence in front of me stands taller than my house.
Great loops of barbed wire give a cruel looking razor sharp, man-eating shine.
I look away quickly, and hope they won’t ever tangle me
The guard we talk to speaks like he’s a part of the fence.
He’s like the wall.
No smiling in his eyes.
No nonsense in his voice.
He looks at me like he’s reading another empty chapter
in a very long and hard book
that he wants to put down
and stop reading.
I’m too afraid to give him a smile or a wave.
So I just look back at him with a very wide-eyed, wondering look
trying not to do anything wrong.
We park a long way out.
It takes a long time to walk across the hot black parking lot toward the building.
Like the fence and the guards,
it looks enormous.
It stands like a giant brick box against the sky
as if it’s trying to keep us all out
even the sunshine and the air.
Holding mom’s hand tight as we start up the sidewalk
the doors don’t want to let us in
the walls and bars don’t want to let anyone out
I hold my breath as I walk inside.
they all turn and look at me
Eyes tell me a story behind each person
some are sad
some are old
some full of hate
and others are only very tired
they look to see who the door let in
inside of their caged in world
made of glass, wire and steel
Fences and walls
inside of the giant box filled with guards
I feel small and afraid
and I wonder why we have to come here to see my Daddy
My sister is braver
She walks tall and unafraid
She acts like she can’t see them looking
walking straight past the lady with the stroller
following mom like she’s another grown up.
I look at the floor and keep up with her tennis shoes
I don’t want to look up anymore.
Hard folding chairs line the room
with a counter full of little windows made of screen wire and glass
separating the whole room down the middle
groups of men sit on the other side of the windows
sitting and talking with us on the outside
guards stand at each side of the wall
and one sits in the middle between the two separated window aisles
He watches the men with folded arms
and stares at them, and us, all the while.
Daddy is behind the glass.
I see him come from outside of the hallway.
He looks different
but he has his same smile.
His eyes smile at me
and look tired around the edges.
He tries not to show it.
But I think his eyes are sad too.
He sits in front of the window.
And puts his hand on the glass.
It’s like a game.
I put my little hand up to the glass too.
His hand is much bigger.
I smile and for a moment
I’m not afraid.
My sister talks first to Daddy.
She’s older than I am and she’s got a lot more to say.
School, the new house, new church, new friends…
Daddy smiles and then says to wait just a minute.
He goes up and gives the guard some change
and buys us sodas.
Puts them on the little ledge at the guard’s post.
Then tells us to go and pick them up.
They are for us.
We walk down and wait, afraid to ask.
The guard stops being a wall for a half a minute
as he smiles and hands us the sodas.
Then goes back to his folded arms
and staring like a watchdog.
We play small games
whatever we can
on either side of the glass between us
Watching Mama and Daddy
they talk and smile some
and wipe away tears and talk some more.
It’s not as good as a hug,
but the guards and the wall won’t let him past.
So we put our hands again on the glass
and press them together there as long as we can.
Too soon, another guard calls time.
He stares like a wolf ready to bite somebody.
Daddy says he loves us, be good, listen to Mama.
And then he says good-bye
I think there were tears in his eyes.
Mama tries hard not to cry.
She watches as he leaves the little room
going down the hall
behind the caged-in bars.
Then we all turn away and leave for home.
I sleep nearly all the way there
waking now and then to stare up at the moon
wondering and staring
waiting for an answer to be spelled out in the stars.
The forest turns black and the sky to dark blue velvet.
while the trees fly silently past the window
like giant black bars made of iron.
I fall asleep and dream of flying over the big brick box
past the guards and razor wire
until I find my Daddy
where we both fly away together
soaring over the prison like a bird
and smiling like crazy
because we’re free.
Back seat travel