Graveyard Shift

snoopy-toothbrushes.jpgHe starts his story in the middle
With the night he stood on tiptoes in orange plastic sandals
Pressed his face against the window in the door of his cell To peer across the hall
Where a young man hung
From a twisted sheet noose

He didn’t see it happen
The actual act that is
Just got a glimpse of the end
But he’ll never forget that
His first night in hell

He grinds his palms together as he tells me this
Pushes his index fingers into a steeple
And talks a little more
About what came next
Days and months rolled into one
Another year

Nights were the worst
The lights never went out
Just slipped
Into shadows that made it safe
Enough to cry
That’s what he remembers now
The sound of tears

Daylight meant fights
A brick in a sock broke a boy’s skull
And then they were gone
No one got any socks
His sandals left blisters but he didn’t cry
About that

And then he was moved
Transferred clear across the state to a cell
Just the same
Men cried there too
When the light melted away

He closes his eyes as he tells me this
Laces his fingers together
And talks a little more
He loops back to the front of the story
The part he doesn’t like
Did you know – he asks – I turned twelveon my first night in hell

Which is the age I actually would have guessed, because he’s nineteen now
Sharing a Coke with me as he waits for his laundry to dry
Pretending that nights aren’t the worst anymore
He just likes to stay up
Looks forward to talking to me – his favorite shelter staff he says
And my dog
He really likes my dog
A yellow lab sprawled on the floor between our feet

But I was eleven when I did it – he says
This is the part I know
How he got jumped in
Was told to leave a mark
Just a mark
But the blade
It slid
Right through
That little boy’s heart

He’s wearing a new basketball jersey tonight
I comment on that
He smiles dimples
A buzzer rings – his laundry is done

He stands up
Thinks about bed in this homeless shelter called home
Remembers he doesn’t have a toothbrush
So I reach into my desk where I find four
Still in the package new with Joe Cool Snoopy on the handles

Awww, man!  You can’t give me this!
But I do
Because I remember his first night here – when he chose Snoopy sheets for his bed
And a nightlight
Turned out he needed two
That was when I realized that I’d need to watch out
For this little boy’s heart


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