This is a story taken partly from my own life and partly from the stories of a friend.
There are signs that surround the prison
where my brother serves his sentence:
Caution. Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.
I accept their presence as I’ve come to accept
the jail itself, spreading flat across the onion fields
with brick as dry and red as river ash;
as I’ve come to accept his ineffective attempts
to live his life within the law, repeated terms
that fail to teach him the avoidance of transgression.
Like the time he drove an eighteen-wheeler
into Matamoros, got busted at the checkpoint
when Border Patrol found the trailer packed with pot.
He hadn’t thought to ask about the cargo,
had not considered all the detours of the past
colliding him against his own recklessness.
Like the time he picked a hitchhiker up
off Interstate 10, drove with him to El Paso, telling him
about the tract of land he owned in the Valley.
Next day when he heard about the prison break
at the unit, the all-points bulletin and red alerts
issued throughout the county, maybe for a moment
he understood that there are signs that apply to him.
And yet, months later, when his passenger was found
just beyond his house, drowned face-down
in a shallow river, my brother was already doing time
for his alliance with a drug ring in the Valley, for leaving
his barn door unlocked and unattended in the fields.
My brother says he is innocent, says it never occurred to him
to lock his doors, says he never knew about the smugglers
slipping in at night to store their stash. Was that unlocked door
another mere omission, another veer down a long road
pocked with irresponsibilities? No way for me to know for sure.
But, if I saw him out some day on the side of the road,
I’d pull over. We’d talk of onion fields and river water
as we drove back to his shack in the Valley, park the car
out front, leave the keys alight in the ignition, brush
the river dust from his box-spring mattress, and settle
to sleep. Leave the front door open to the mercy of the moon.
For We Write Poems