Untitled (Unexceptional and Unforgettable)

February 5, 2022

From the January-February 2022 issue of News & Letters

Ode to my first three years of solitary confinement, commissioned by the founder of Los Angeles’s Compassion Prison Project.


“i’m going abroad now. please feed the fishes.”;
his last and lonely wishes.

Scrawled red on the wall, but in no way violent;
in forced solitude and deftly silent.


Well-nigh a decade then, he’d lived next door;
plagued and poor, El Bay the Moor.

Though we’d never met, we never let the other alone;
brotherhood as weightless as a bird bone.


As lighthouse sand windmills trade signals at dawn;
reflections for revolutions daily shared with a yawn.

He’d say, “Don’t ever cave, rule your cave; the trick
is to be brave, but not too brave.”


No, we weren’t proud of our address, but we still had a name;
be it a Moor’s, mine, or yours, we’re all one and the same.

The forgotten, the disgraced, the one-night stands;
figure 8s on broken skates in subterranean lands.


I can’t fight back the tears that I’ll never cry;
he was meant and made by them to die

They threw at once the rock, the paper, and the scissors;
to bludgeon, to conceal, to carve mental fissures.


They found a martyr on cold concrete that night;
for them, it wasn’t too firm, rather just and right.

He chose to sleep, and it was hardly a choice;
Rendered lifeless since they first entombed his voice.


—Charles Tooker, Soledad, Calif.

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