Johns Hopkins University Press

jury duty

almost no one ever goes to trial. nearly all criminal cases [97%] are resolved through plea bargaining.

— michelle alexander

let us go and make our visit.

— t. s. eliot

no one wants to be there. many of us glitter  like the sea in sunshine, shedding sweator tears at the mere thought of a criminal  court. such proximity to police, to cuffsand charges. to be trapped playing a role

in some tragedy, condemner uncomfortably  close to the condemned. many others thinkinstantly of opportunity costs: time is money.  who can afford to spend three-to-five days’worth listening to the lawyers coming and

going through the oceans of files, talking  of boys who were no angels? no. to serve isa right and our duty, each to each—but  the potential juror peers into the courtroomas if it were quarantined for the plague. [End Page 30]

  once years ago, my father served in a trial. a stormyevening, the darkness intensified by winds that made    our metal screen door buzz like a warped

harmonica. as we waited dinner for him, the power    failed. my sister and i, young and younger,      shrieked till our mom lit the fat candle,

    its plastic container painted to look like stained      glass. as we sat distracted by flickering  scenes of jesus’s miracles, the phone rang:

      our father’s one call to tell our mother    the jury would be sequestered overnight  . . . in courthouse cells. daddys in jail ?! was all

    we girls took in. our lives had been a steadycaravan of cautions and counsels, inevitably ending      and stay out of prison. we hardly dared

  imagine that anyone, once caught behind bars,emerged again. the next day brought morning sun    and father in the afternoon. we greeted him

as if he’d come from the dead. [End Page 31]

would it be a hardship to serve three weeks?, dutiful    jurors in my state are asked. the line to plead

excuses runs long. meanwhile, money (or lack    thereof) is time, for all the men and women

awaiting trial in cells they can’t bail themselves    out of. they hear the prosecutors spooning out

their lives, inviting the accused: sing to me. they    sing, a loud chorus of bodies white and brown

and black, flooding prisons in waves, while we    malinger on the beach in our own sequestered

chambers. their human voices wake us, or we drown. [End Page 32]

(my) emily dickinson

is visited by—dragonflies —sees—through—their stained-glass wings —makes common cause with aconiteand—shy—about her fangs —

draws by the curtain—of her lip —to keep the—crowd—at bay —and never howls—until the moonhas coin enough to buy —

and brushes smooth her auburn furuntil its pearl be seen —then—lunatic—in the garden —unsheathes her daggered grin— [End Page 33]

Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley is the author of several collections of poetry, including the new black, winner of the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and semiautomatic, winner of the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. Her scholarship and poetry have been supported by fellowships from such institutions as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the ACLS, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and MacDowell. She is Professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

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