A woman crouches in the corner of a building
on 22nd St. crying over something lost
or something found or maybe just a rush
of recognition: this is how it all turns out:
these tears on this street in this city
where no one will stop or flinch or judge.
And then later on the subway map there’s a sticker
that reads Rikers is Here with a red arrow
marking the spot—marking the absence—
marking the 10,000 bodies forgotten.
So close, like everything in New York.
20,000 hands on bars (assuming everyone
has two). It’s easier to believe in evil
than in the complexity of the human condition.
And it was just yesterday that you rushed
an old woman hit by a taxi to the hospital
knowing well enough she was going die
(they all die, you say). But it is your job
to do what you can, to rush her away
in a charade of control: an act the living go
through. Like the men who pulled the car
off of her, prayed over her, imagined she
was still breathing, still trying to talk—
all before you got there with your skills
and gloves and flashing lights, though none
of that would matter in the long run.
The same day Pfizer blocked the last
of their drugs from being used in lethal injections
and somewhere (not here) bodies felt reprieve.
No one wants the responsibility of the kill—
just the dead body. And sometimes I think
of the thrill of seeing Jude Law’s cock
in The Talented Mr. Ripley when I was 17
and then a different thrill when Matt Damon
smothers that man at the end proving every thing
creeps toward disaster. Spoiler Alert: We are all monsters.
Public executions were eventually banned
in the United States. Evidence showing no
benefit, so we closed the doors. Locked
everything away, but things locked up are still
there whether we remember them or not.
Recently, I’ve been writing to gay prisoners
through the Black & Pink organization.
One told me to be careful out there in the real
world. As silly as this sounds, he wrote, I feel
safer in here. But even in the execution room
there is space for the unexpected: the call
from the governor, the meds gone wrong,
a burnt last meal, a stumbled final phrase,
and then the stopping of a heart that feels
like justice for a split second before it fades
into something darker than a room with a body
not moving anymore. Unlike how I imagine you
in the hospital after a call, always confident,
always calm, always accepting the fate of your days.
And now—right now—the air conditioner
is broken on this subway car and it’s 1 AM
and everyone wants to go home. Sweat pools. Runs
down faces. We stare at each other in shared misery.
And then begin to count the stops. The blocks.
The numbers rising. And there on the map
circled in red above my head: Rikers is Here.
Stephen S. Mills is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012) and A History of the Unmarried (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014). He earned his MFA from Florida State University. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, The Rumpus, and others. He is also the winner of the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award and the 2014 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction. His third poetry collection Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution is forthcoming in fall of 2018. He lives in New York City. http://www.stephensmills.com/