guilty or not
always look the same when they are released—
patriarchs dethroned.
This one just passed through the gate
head bowed despite not being tall
his gestures like a Bedouin’s
entering the tent
he carried on his back all day long.
Cotton curtains, stone walls, the smell of burnt lime
take him back to the moment
the cold war ended.
The other day his sheet was hung up in the courtyard
as if to flaunt the blood stain
after a wedding night.
Faces tarnished by sun
surround him, all eyes and ears:
“What did you dream of last night?”
A prisoner’s dreams
are parchment
made sacred by its missing passages.
His sister is still discovering his odd habits:
the bits of bread hidden in pockets and under his bed
the relentless chopping of wood for winter.
Why this fear?
What can be worse than life in prison?
Having choices
but being unable to choose.

Luljeta Lleshanku, "Prisoners" from Child of Nature.  Copyright © 2000, 2006, 2010 by Luljeta Lleshanku. Translation copyright © 2010 by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatapi. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
More Poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku