CONVICT SONG

by sylvia chan

 

Our guardian always felt my torso:          took twenty years,

filtered through his hands. His mouth           a stilted breath,

pinched our sides:                            my friction an electricity

 

                  as if this was tenderness. And his grit?

 

Enough to foster                                      a hate for our clean sheets, stacked books,                                            writings

the June Jordan, our tire swing                     in the dusklight.

 

                 I try to do right by my siblings,

 

to be strong. To be true                                               like you.

Lady Justice, which monster                                        Martyr

will you take? I see David,                 writing the obscenities,

 

                       an outsider—to call him a good father—

 

A noble man who had taken                                    A tripwire.

bad kids to pinch into pearls.             For the fostered, we’re

Complicit in how he raised                              pining towards

 

                         his hands for Evan Isaiah’s neck

 

until he felt the chokehold.                     How he unbuttoned

My jeans                                                 Until I felt his member

prick my navel.                                   Was there nobody else?

 

                          One kid, two kids, three—

 

If Evan Isaiah and I                                                   to tell Rose, had gotten there in time                                             our sister.

No easy way to say it:                                                   we hear

 

                           the static of the policeman’s radio

And wonder how to stitch                                   our guardian, our sister back together.                 throwing the Glock pistol His hands seize                                       on the linoleum floor.

 

                            Turn towards us.

 

Then away,

as if he can’t control

them.                                                            He keeps wringing.

Sylvia Chan hails from the San Francisco East Bay, where she performed as a jazz pianist. She lives in Tucson, where she teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Arizona and serves as court advocate for foster kids in Pima County and nonfiction editor at Entropy. Her debut poetry collection is We Remain Traditional (Center for Literary Publishing 2018), and her essays appear in Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019.

© 2004-2020 All Rights Reserved. American Poetry Journal