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Penological Study: Southern Exposure

1. KEEP THAT MORPHINE MOVING, CAP

Oh, in the pen, oh, in the pen,
The cans, they have no doors, therefore
I saw him, head bent in that primordial
Prayer, head grizzled, and the sweat,
To the gray cement, dropped. It dripped,
And each drop glittered as it fell,
For in the pen, oh, in the pen,
The cans, they have no doors.

Each drop upon that gray cement
Exploded like a star, and the Warden,
I heard the Warden saying, “Jake—
You know we’re pulling for you, Jake,”
And I saw that face lift and explode
In whiteness like a star, for oh!—
Oh, in the pen, yes, in the pen,
The cans, they have no doors.

A black hole opened in that white
That was the star-exploding face,
And words came out, the words came out,
“Jest keep that morphine moving, Cap,
And me, I’ll tough it through,”
Who had toughed it through nigh thirty years
And couldn’t now remember why
He had cut her throat that night, and so
Come to the pen, here to the pen,
Where cans, they have no doors,

And where he sits, while deep inside,
Inside his gut, inside his gut,
The pumpkin grows and grows, and only
In such a posture humped, can he
Hold tight his gut, and half believe,
Like you or me, like you or me,
That the truth will not be true. Oh, Warden—

Keep that morphine moving, for
All night beneath that blazing bulb,
Bright drop by drop, from the soaked hair, sweat
Drips, and each drop, on the gray cement,
Explodes like a star. Listen to that
Small sound, and let us, too, keep pulling
For him, like we all ought to, who,
When truth at last is true, must try,
Like him, to tough it through—but oh!—
Not in the pen, not in the pen,
Where cans, they have no doors.

2. NIGHT: WAITING IN THE CHEAP MOTEL

Now in the cheap motel, I lie, and
Belly-up, the dead catfish slides
All night glimmering down the river
That is black and glossy as
Old oil bleeding soundlessly
From the crank-case. Look! the stars

Are there, they shine, and the river
Knows their white names as it flows,
And white in starlight the white belly
Glimmers down that magisterial
Moving night the river is.

In this motel I lie and sweat.
It is summer, it is summer.

The river moves. It does not stop.
It, like night, is going somewhere.

It is going, somewhere.

  1. WHERE THEY COME TO WAIT FOR THE BODY: A GHOST STORY

This is the cheap motel where
They come to wait for the body if they
Are white, and have three dollars to spare,

Which is tough if you wanted to scrape up to pay
Private for the undertaker because you
Hope he’ll make things look better some way,

But won’t, for with 100,000 volts gone through,
The customer’s not a John Barrymore,
And the face he’s got will just have to do

Him on out, so load the finished product and go, for
You’ve long since done with your crying, and now
It’s like it all happened long back, or

To somebody else. But referring to Jake, how
Could they schedule delivery, it might be next week,
Or might, if things broke right, be even tomorrow,

But who gives a damn how the cheese, so to speak,
Gets sliced, for nobody’s waiting to haul
Jake back to any home cross-roads or creek.

And there’s nobody here, nobody at all,
Who knows his name even, but me, and I know
Only the Jake part, but I’ve got a call

In for 5 A.M., for I’m due to blow
At half-past, but if he’s checked out and ready,
And is heading out my road, he can go

With me, and we roll, and his eyes stare moody
Down a road all different from the last time he passed,
And the new slab whirls at him white now and steady,

And what he might recognize snaps by so fast
That hill and stream and field all blur
To a misty glitter, till at last

He shifts on his hams, and his stiff hands stir
On his knees, and he says: “That bluff—thar ‘tis!
Jest let me off thar, thank you kindly, sir.”

And so he drops off at the creek where that bluff is
And the shadow of woods spills down to the bone-
White slab, and with back to the screech and whizz

Of the traffic, he stands, like he was alone
And noise no different from silence, his face set
Woodsward and hillsward, then sudden, he’s gone.

And me, I’m gone too, as I flog the U-Drive-It
Toward Nashville, where faces of friends, some dead, gleam,
And where, when the time comes, you grab the jet.

  1. NIGHT IS PERSONAL

Night is personal. Day is public. Day
Is like a pair of pants you can buy anywhere, and do.



When you are through with day you hang it up like pants on
The back of a chair, and it glows all night in the motel room, but not



Enough to keep you awake. Jake is awake. Oh, Warden,
Keep that morphine moving, for we are all



One flesh, and back in your office, in the dark, the telephone
Is thinking up something to say, it is going to say



It does not love you, for night is each man’s legend, and
there is no joy
Without some pain. Jake is meditating his joy. He sweats. Oh, Warden,



Keep that morphine moving, for I feel something
Soft as feathers whispering in me, and



Corpuscles grind in your own blood-stream, like gravel
In a freshet, and by this sign know that a congress



Of comets will be convened screaming, they will comb their
Long hair with blue fingers cold as ice, their


tears are precious, therefore

My head explodes with flowers like a gangster’s funeral, but
all this racket won’t
Matter, for Jake is awake anyway. Oh, Warden, keep


that morphine moving, for

When you get home tonight your wife will be weeping. She
Will not know why, for in the multiple eye of the spider, the


world bleeds

Many times over, the spider is hairy like a Jewish Jesus, it
is soft like a peach
Mercilessly bruised, you have tasted the blood of the spider, and



It smiles, it knows. Jake is awake. Oh, Warden,
Keep that morphine moving, for your father is not really dead, he



Is trying to get out of that box he thinks you will put him in, and
on the floor by your bed, in the dark,
Your old dog, like conscience, sighs, the tail feebly thumps,


it wants

To be friends again, it will forgive you even if now you
Do take it to the vet, for nowis the time, it has suffered


enough. Oh, Warden,

Keep that morphine moving, for we’ve had a frightful summer, sweat
Stings my eyes, salt pills do no good, forest fires rage


at night in the mountains. Warden,

Things have got to change around here. Jake’s case is simply
One of many. An investigation is coming, I warn you. And anyway,



Night is personal, night is personal. There are many nights, Warden,
And you have no reason to think that you are above the Law.

  1. DAWN

Owl, owl, stop calling from the swamp, let
Old orange peel and condoms and
That dead catfish, belly white, and
Whitely, whitely, the shed petals
Of catalpa—let all, all,
Slide whitely down the sliding darkness
That the river is, and stars
Dip dawnward down the un-owled air, and sweat
Dry on the sheet.

Stars
Assume the last brightness, it
Is not yet dawn. Dawn will, it
Is logical to postulate, though not
Certain, come, and the sun then,
Above the horizon, burst
Like a blast of buck-shot through
A stained-glass window, for

It is summer, it is summer.

Forgive us, this day, our joy.

Far off, a red tractor is crossing the black field.
Iron crushes the last dawn-tangle of ground mist.

Forgive us—oh, give us!—our joy.

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