A Postmodern Two-Step

By Reginald Dwayne Betts
Some people say prison is the country
where life is cheaper than anywhere else;
you wouldn’t think that watching us take leave,
our caravan three deep and black against
the wine-dark asphalt, and two of three
are nothing but escorts: four uniformed
shotguns (off safety) leading and flanking
our coffle, all intent to keep us here,
and not wherever shackles and cuffs run
in this dead of morning, less than fifty miles
from where Nat Turner dug a hole and lay
for weeks. Virginia, something noose-like then
and some say still, except for all the shit
we did to land in this here hull and cul-
de-sac. The guard, he say “die, but don’t run”
when one of us begin to cough his lung
up in sleep. And this is ruin. Damn these chains,
this awkward dance I do with this van. Two-step,
my body swaying back and forth, my head
a pendulum that’s rocked by the wild riffs
of the dudes I’m riding with: them white folks know
you ain’t god body, what you commune wine
and bread? Where you from son? Red lines?
To what Onion? My eyes two caskets though,
so the voices are sheets of sound. Our van as dark
inside as out, and all the bodies black
and voices black too and I tell my god
if you have ears for this one, know I want
no part of it, no Onions and no tears.
I tell no one, and cry my dirge.
                                                        This place,
the cracked and scratching vinyl seats, the loud
loud talk of murder this and blanket fear
around the rest, is where I’m most at home,
but it’s beyond where prayers reach, a point
something like purgatory. I lean back
and drift in sleep as someone says, his voice
all hoarse and jacked, all broken songbird-like
all revolutions end with a L-note.

Source: Poetry (November 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2012
 Reginald Dwayne Betts


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of a memoir and two books of poetry. His memior, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery/Penguin, 2009), was awarded the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction. His books of poetry are Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James, 2010) and Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Betts is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow, 2011 Radcliffe Fellow, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.