Poem with lines from John Donne’s “Meditation XVII”

I.

I walk through the corridors of my self, tricked
out in ego uniform. I trail the end of a night-

stick along the vertical bars separating me into
isolated cells to contain my many selves I have

judged unready to be seen in public, ones rumored
to have erred, others likely to appear inadequate.

In order to keep so many confined here to my own
private Alcatraz, the ego-guard in charge of them

can also never be off-duty, never has permission
to take a break, to rest, relax the tense knots,

the kinks that over-vigilance works into muscles,
into sentences, into nights that might otherwise

hold sleep and starlit dreams. I have lost track
which of my voices was confined to isolation when,

how long each has been down here, and for what
offense against the relentless despot in my head.

II.

And here the despot comes! Flanked by pretensions,
he descends partway down the metal stairs into

the darkness of the prison, come to announce his
latest plans for all the inmates, how they might

earn the right to see the light of day and breathe
fresh air again. But first, they must make their

obeisance and express their willingness to work
as conscript labor on the despot’s latest project.

III.

The nightstick dragging on the bars is a mallet
pounding on a xylophone. Taken alone, each note

is sharp and harsh, but as each one hangs sullen
in the air, other notes gather near it until

the tones are stacked and sandwiched like shades
of colored light, a chord of rainbow, sundogs.

“…one chapter is not torn out of the book,
but translated into a better language; and every

chapter must be so translated…” Slowly, one
after the other, the inner inmates turn their

faces toward the despot. His mouth still shapes
commands, but any sound he makes is drowned by

these new harmonies blending from the cell-bar
xylophone notes. The air begins to vibrate with

hope, tones soften from xylophone to marimba,
are sustained in shimmers, promises, and inner

whispers that race from cell to cell until all
voices in me are raised in affirmation: there

are no mistakes and no mis-givings, and nothing
but nothing only nothing remains hidden forever.


In response to Joseph Lisowski’s “Shadow Self/Dante Dream 10-13” and Dave Bonta’s “Surveillance Society,” with help from John Donne.

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