They say liberty is sweet so
I licked her before I left her for shackles,
hoping her honey would crystallize on my tongue
and my lips
would only ever speak with the memory of her.
Inside the jailhouse they spray you clean of
all that freedom sugar, cold water raining down
to drown the lice
you might have dragged through the door.
Long ago they’d have shaved our heads,
and my vanity is grateful they don’t anymore,
the girl locked in with me scratches at her scalp all night like
she’s overrun by more than just nightmares.
Her hands are scarred like she maybe clawed
her way out of coffins and maybe fought
her way out of Hell,
just to get here and be ghosted by a nation.
I offer my comb and she climbs on my bunk and turns away from me.
Silently, gently, I pull the teeth through her locks.
I have a summer dress her age, and they’ll both be twice as old
by the time she comes home, and they’ll both be twice as worn
by the time she comes home.
I sing her a soft song about freedom, my mouth still a cave
echoing the promise of stars and stripes,
only stopping when a baton raps its way into my lullaby.
This officer would cut my tongue out and
claim it contraband, if she could.
Nobody in here is supposed to talk like
they’re good enough for free.
I do it anyway.
They say liberty is sweet so I kiss her hello again
on my way out of prison, but this time
she clamps teeth down on my lips.
Her sweetness has a bite now.
Maybe this is just how sugar tastes on a mouth gone salty.
Maybe this is how liberty loves a person who was locked behind stripes,
a person who knows the stars we see have been dead this whole time.
I cut off my locks, impatient for my cells to forget their cage.
I brush my short hair with my fingers, in silence.
My mouth is a cave of contraband hopes,
and liberty is a ghost,
twice as worn as the last time anyone really saw her.
I sing for her to come home