February 27, 2016
Three O'clock, 1942
Elaine's father was a guard at the Trenton State Penitentiary.
Once in awhile, I forget how often,
she couldn't come out to play
because it was her daddy's turn to pull the switch,
and watch a prisoner die.
He'd stay inside feeling sick, but why the family
had to close the shades, I don't know, or
why, even if we knocked politely, her mother
sent us away, saying "Elaine can't come out today."
The rest of us little girls sat on my porch
In cool dresses. Three O'clock.
Mothers were in the kitchen setting spoons.
There were iced drinks and cookies,
powdered sugar, a confection of air;
not even fathers were coming home to break the silence.
The only sound is a boy on the tracks nearby
Who's caught a small animal and tramps through the weeds
carrying a cardboard cage, three holes for air.
The girls ask whose turn it is to make up a story.
We visit bright imagined countries and
in this way travel beyond swinging chairs,
white railings, a summer porch.
At Three O'Clock God mutes the trees
to listen. The only sound is a thrashing -
the biting and scratching as the boy falls -
the rustling and scrambling
of a small animal breaking free.