For You, in the County Jail
It floods, as all things do in the end.
A critter thrusts his heft into the confines
of your cell and there you are
to love it. The toad submits to your will,
loafs geode-like in the clutch of a paper cup.
Where once as a boy you would have recreated
his natural habitat, as our joke goes, with a single twig
and lone oak leaf, today you have nothing to offer
this warty soul. The cottonwoods cry and you
are behind bars—are there bars anymore?
Or is that mere poignancy: the film star's soft hands
fondling the steel as he speaks, screams, let me out.
Let me in, I'd like to say. Let me in says the tiny toad
flushed under the door by May's outrageous rain,
let me in. Are you hungry, I wonder. Are you tired,
are you terrified, are you fine. No pets allowed
the wardens shrill, no succor now, for you—your eyes
aglow, your veins full of whiskey—slipped
behind that slippery wheel, an idiot,
a mirage, a speck of hope gone rogue.
Do you belong here. Does the creature
whose throat shudders like a tired balloon.
What are you, knight errant who fills
my nights with questions, my lungs with smoke.
Here is the church, here is the steeple.
Here is a jail and here
a squad car—open them. Go on:
number each misstep like a dim star—
you know their pulse, daring,
already dead behind those cinder blocks
that hold you. Let me in.
Let me out the crystal snickers, incarcerated
in its gray hide, erupting like bad cement.
Let me out say your bones, let me out
creaks the toad. When will you upend
his little prison and where my god will he go.
What will I find when I break you
open. Your big, bloody heart
counting my own: syllables in a poem,
a nest of opal, chalcedony, quartz.
Caitlin Cowan's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Gulf Coast, Cold Mountain Review, Nimrod, The Mississippi Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of The Mississippi Review Prize, The Ron McFarland Prize for Poetry, and an Avery Hopwood Award. She holds a PhD from The University of North Texas, where she is currently a lecturer in the Department of English. (www.caitlincowan.com)