George Franklin is the author of Noise of the World (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions), Traveling for No Good Reason (winner of the Sheila-Na-Gig Editions competition in 2018), a dual-language collection, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), and a chapbook, Travels of the Angel of Sorrow (Blue Cedar Press). He practices law in Miami and is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día/Last Day (Katakana Editores). Look for Remote Cities from Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in winter 2022/23. Buy George’s Sheila-Na-Gig titles here!
The street that stops just beyond the railroad tracks
Wants to lift its shoulders, stretch to the Gulf of Mexico,
Maybe all the way to Veracruz. It wants to steady itself
Above the waves, arcing like a spark between two wires.
The street that’s laid out east to west in suburban boredom
Will not be held by streetlights and signs driven into the ground.
It envies the clouds passing over ranch-style houses, strip malls,
Truck stops, and casinos, clouds that when they’re weighted
Down with gray water slide between office buildings,
The plate-glass windows of penthouse apartments going blind
With fog and condensation, their lights invisible. The street
Begins here at a bay that smells of dead fish and algae,
That washes up ducks and jet skis, fumes of marine gas
And feral cats. The street ignores the airport and the planes that
Think only of destinations, time, and profit. The street inhales
The desires of sidewalks and lawns, geometric prisons
Surrounding geometric lives. It exhales tides and full moons,
Horizon lines that are not borders.
At the prison graduation, the poets stand up
And pour their sadness onto paper plates. The guests
Will take home blue ink and fluorescent light,
Night sweat from narrow bunkbeds, human sounds
Everyone is supposed to pretend they don’t hear,
Coughing, crying sounds, the bunk on the right shaking,
Then a sigh and quiet, then the guard counting,
Noisy fans moving but not cooling the air.
For two hours, the guests and the men talk,
Tell each other stories—men from Texas,
Upstate New York, or Colombia; guests from
The same places or somewhere else, sitting on
Folding chairs, the prison band playing jazz standards.
At the first graduations, the bands played rock and blues
Loud enough to make the vending machines vibrate.
It was hard to talk. Now, it’s easier. Some of the men
Sit without saying anything, afraid of the guests but not
Showing it, just waiting for the poets, for ink,
For Hialeah twenty years ago or a music festival
On Miami Beach, for triple-deckers in Boston
Or night-fears in Brooklyn or Haiti, grow houses
In Kendall, fathers who floated like river gods
In a noxious ether, violent to one end or another.
It’s all ink, on notepad or on skin, stretching
Over knuckles or following the lines on a sheet
Of torn paper, blue ink that stains the guests’ fingers.
Last week, a man tried to commit suicide three times.
The first time, mental health sent him back; the second,
He dived off a balcony but didn’t die, so he tried again.
They stopped him and called security.
The men speak into microphones, sometimes
Rhyming, sometimes words without ornament,
Words that have been searched, told to crouch and
Cough—and the guests, who may never have
Been patted down before they arrived here,
Hear what the men read, read what the men
Have written. Outside, there is a tree filled with
Starlings and crows, grackles and even sparrows,
So loud the guests can’t hear each other when they
Walk by. Sometimes, the crows fly over the wire
To steal scraps from a garbage can. No one bothers
To chase them away. At another prison,
I remember buzzards perched along a dumpster.
There is no metaphor here. The starlings are just noisy
And afraid; the buzzards were patient but hungry. When
The guests arrive, this is what they see. Neither birds
Nor the guests are made of paper, but the words of the men
Are blue ink and fluorescent light. The guests take them home.