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Cooler Bandits

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 1, 2013
pp. 113-116 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0044

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

They mourn together, drown   with the rest of their brothers in cuffs. Say they were lost: chaos   with a bullet; say there was no rest from being hard. & that they,

all four restless, ran into the night   with guns, not prayers. Say they thought they couldn’t   afford rest, not in that Akron. Who, cuffed to the hood rests? Say

they felt power: The burners   made folks take them serious, burned flashing steel into nightmares,   ruined rest. Troubled their belief in God. Shattered air.   They didn’t kill though. Just waved it in the air

& their voices thundered,   & rooms became still. The city didn’t rest when it started.   Say violence was in the air— & they were all so damn young.   Call them heirs

of cell doors clanking closed; call   them lost inside prison with violence, again, in the air. 50 witnesses.   The lady said, “I was praying.” Poochie knows. The lady says,    “I was praying

for the boys.” Their eulogies   were there, in the air. They should’ve [End Page 113] said guilty in song, made a hymnal   of it—a plea, started praying in court. Say   the gavel burned them,

pounding gavel more threat   than any burner. They learn time in prison, learn the calendar &   confined air. They wake young & bound by count time & chow call,

burning in a purgatory   where there is no rest. & their lives: music, that same   melody—, where prison is the imitation   of life. No burner saves a man from time. & locked

up is to be lost.   Decades, love, the smell of Akron. What isn’t lost?   Frankie says he was far-gone. Say that made the burner   the natural choice? Say prison teaches you to pray,

to fall down on knees & start   whispering as if prayer is the one thing missing. Maybe it is. Say prayer is prison’s gift. A way   to hunger. A way to burn

a shout on your brain. A way   to live in the world without being prey. A fifty-year sentence buckles   a man’s knees into prayer.

Charlie say, “only thing   matter is where you at.” This air, he means, will suffocate   most, change those not preyed upon, ruin those broken by [End Page 114]

loving the world in prayer.   If they couldn’t rest on the block, they couldn’t rest   in prison, not when every day they scuffled to wrest

hope from concrete & carceral. Say   there is only prayer, as if speaking to the unseen is   a way to not feel lost. Imagine ten consecutive   twelve-year bids, imagine

being lost in that. They walked   rec yards with muscles flaring, lost to what awaited—.   Imagine, time is god & prayers to her are answered by victims’ cries.

What lost would save them:   not safety, not sanity, not time lost— so what they were born   where factories closed & the burners they held made them   legends. Say you can be lost in what gives you a name.

Ask them, they know Akron   is lost inside all that prison has given   & snatched. The air of the city didn’t drift to rec yards,

there they breathed air   at the crossroads where some men have to go back, lost,   looking for they self. Ask Charlie, Donovon, Frankie, about rest,   ask Poochie. Ask every man in every prison. There is rest

in the grave. Pressed against   tomorrow, prison is what the rest of us have nightmares about. [End Page 115]   They want forgiveness. They’re lost in the aftermath of what   made them infamous. Maybe praying

is the only real option. Maybe   only God can forgive what burns a man’s history, forgive   that smoke wafting in the air. [End Page 116]

Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and father of two sons. The author of the memoir A Question of Freedom (Avery/Penguin 2009) and the collection of poetry titled Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), Betts has been awarded fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, the Open Society Institute, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Warren Wilson College. As a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, Betts writes and...