Monday, February 22, 2010


The Little Prison

after Vasko Popa's The Little Box

Enter the little prison a comma
And you come out a question mark

Enter a scallop
And come out the shell

Enter in English
And you come out murmuring
What your great grandmother murmured
To other shells
On another shore

Enter an apple
And come out the teeth marks
In its yellowed core

The little prison
Has no interest in silence

If you crack a door
It beeps back at you

If you try to read
The Speaker will tell you

Who is collecting garbage
And who's expected on the second floor

And then seven names repeat
For reasons you can't decipher

Until the series of names
Takes on the cadence

And silver radiance
Of prayer

From the outside
All the world hears

Is the heavy breath
Of its red bricks

There are no hardcover books
For inhabitants of the little prison

They might open them
And find the lingams of Sai Baba
Or a glimmering orange moon
Which may eclipse and no one
Will alert the little prison

And this is its secret

The little prison was once a field
Herds of deer moved across it
And flocks of herons
Their calls rose and echoed

In the spring
If pressed
The little prison that was once a field
Will admit it once likened itself
To the great amphitheater at Delphi

Whisper at the door
Of the little prison
And your voice will become a coin
It will clang and whirl
As in a vacant staircase

Sing at the door
Of the little prison
And your father will tell you
To get a haircut

Stand mute
At the door
And your tongue will harden
Like the hoof of a boar

Why come to the door
Of the little prison
When the world
Is full of easier doors

Do you want to hear more
About the little prison
Why is it everywhere

Wind a ribbon around the little prison
You can pretend you made a gift

Give it to your neighbor
Or your cousin
And clasp your hands
With excitement

Tell them you've been waiting
All week to give them the little prison

At this point you may want
To become an elephant
Or a local expert on heaven

Or simply exit the room

If you have a message for the little prison
The man with the mustache
At the first door before the first hall
Before the first lobby
Will gladly press a button for you
And accept it

He'll place your message
In a special drawer
Where it may become a dwelling for millipedes
And the termites that tick
Across the hidden highways
Of giant desks

And if you have a message
For this man with the mustache
You can give it to his mother
Who lives up the river
In the little prison there
Where more termites tick
Inside another giant desk

You may need
To resend the message

The little prison says it is getting tired
So many inhabitants it says
So many hidden buttons and beeping doors

The little prison says tuck me in

But even the wind is too busy
Papers flutter and slip from the giant desk

Even then the little prison
Will not speak of the herons
It will not speak of the field

-Idra Novey

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