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Memorias do Cárcere

ISSUE:  Summer 2010


An island of jackfruits and great gaps
in electricity.
The flicker of lizards
across walls and the demolition
of a prison so recent everyone still
has a version of how it fell—
all the birds
that exploded out of the trees.

Dozens and dozens, says a woman
over the sizzle of a fish.

Hundreds, says a man
with a toothpick,
waiting to take her home.

Their talk of birds turns
to inmates.

All murderers, says the woman.

Not even a third, says the man,
they were leftist
with bony elbows, it was a prison
of the times.

The man and woman
fall silent.

Tiny white crabs skitter back
to their holes in the sand.

At least they could roam
the beaches, says the woman.

Our myth, says the man.


So lush here, Graciliano, this lizard island
where you were imprisoned.
Every night the lightning
strikes more jackfruits
out of the trees

and the air sugars
with their smell
as they shatter
into the jungle that’s flowered over
the stifling cells you were locked in
for novels
none of your prosecutors
could name.

As for your inmates,
their bones grow lighter
in a lost grave,

but anyone can tell you where
the cobras nest, which trails
lead to beaches and to trees
where the monkeys preen.

When I go on here about paradise,
I mean no disrespect.
I say it for the flicker of lizards
on my windowsill
and the night smell
of jackfruit,
for this much wildness
just sixty miles from Rio.

Enough lushness
to erase everything that’s not green
or dengue fever, mosquito
or sky.


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