THE CHARGES AGAINST US by BETSY HOUSTEN

The box of dry Frosted Flakes at 4 AM is not
the first indignity. All night we are chained together,
a line of delinquent ducklings going in and out of cages,

pressing fingers on the glass, reciting our numbers,
staring at the camera. Guards bark: Face forward.
Turn to the side. Don’t smile. Toward morning, someone

calls my name, escorts me to a courtroom; after
fourteen hours in cells, I am the first to be shuttled
upstairs. Adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,

defines the public defender assigned me. If you agree
to stay out of trouble for six months, you can leave now.
I sign a paper, nod to a judge, exit to the street

like any other day. Outside, friends with signs march
and shout. You’re standing by a tree, chain-smoking,
crying: your girlfriend left yesterday, you explain,

for reasons you don’t understand. After the handcuffs,
the oily floors, the ratty Central Booking mattress,
all I can do is rub my red wrists, remember they will

not ache forever, promise you the world will shift
to shoulder each new pain. All I can tell you is to stand
at zero, use big words, wait for the tiny miracles

that frame impossible days. And when relief comes,
do not confuse it with justice. It is arbitrary as freedom
and the moment you hear they’re letting you go.

 


Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears or is forthcoming in formercactus, Cold Creek Review, Bone & Ink Press, Burning House Press, Memoir Mixtapes, Longleaf Review, Glassworks Magazine, Little Red Tarot and NILVX. Jersey-born and Brooklyn-bred, she currently lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry.

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