Occupied

“You need to leave.”

“I’d like to stay in the park, please,” Rose’s voice shakes in response.

Two officers seize her arms, pulling her off

the stone steps of the monument, chilled by the early November night.

The park closed at eleven.

Her arrest? A misdemeanor, its eleven oh two.

The icy metal cuffs strangle her wrists, she’ll have deep purple

memories circling them for weeks.

Her tired green tennis shoes offer no solace, one untied lace trailing through

rotting leaves and stagnant puddles.

Hundreds of eyes follow her as the three

march. The van waits, spilling exhaust into the crowd.

A slow trickle tickles her nose, a strand of hair covers her eye,

she had no hands to stop it.

Her fingers go numb, twigs that hang dead behind her back.

She cranes her neck to see her co-conspirators. Those who also dared to stay,

but officers shove her forward.

Her knee breaks the fall to concrete, then her forehead.

Crimson drips as dozens rush forward,

put her back into vertical safety.

She’s thrown into the van, on a metal bench colder than

the officers’ stares. Chin meets chest with ceilings so low,

an endless ride illuminated only by streetlights’ glow.

through the small circles cut into the metal van. Her fingers,

shades of blue, freeze her spine.

Another girl sits beside her, no words are exchanged.

Both voices constricted in throats.

Finally, motionless, the van sits.

Bright light blinds as doors swing open,

a yank brings her to her feet, in a garage, surrounded by

crisp blue uniforms and annoyed eyes.

“Rose Elizabeth Herholtz.”

“May Nineteenth, Nineteen-Ninety Three.” “Eighteen, yes.”

“P O Box one-seven-four, Rochester, New York.”

“Yes.” “No.” “No.” “Yes.” “No.”

“Yes, one, on my foot. It’s a cross.”

“No.” “No.” “Thank you.”

Deposited inside, she waits.

Destabilized by handcuffs,

Her heart, a frantic drummer.

Flash of the mugshot, slam of a door. She is locked in a room,

buzz cuts capping the tall faces of three officers who stare her down,

release her hands.

“Take off your jacket, shoes, belt.” Rose obeys.

An officer laughs, pointing at the thick numbers

drawn on her arm with permanent marker. “Is that who

they told you to call?” he mocks,

another joins in. “You’re a baby! Do you even know what you’re doing?!”

The long Wednesday night reflects in her eyes, as her

silence holds her head higher, refusing to accept anything

less than respect. Officers, still laughing, invade her more than a pat-down requires.

They direct her to the next room.

The quiet sheriff chimes in, just before she leaves

“What you’re doing, it’s really great.

Thank you.”

The only comfort in that frigid night.

A single phone call left unanswered, the endless ringing sinks her stomach.

She doesn’t try again.

Ushered into a cell, the door closes with finality, reveals no second knob inside.

Benches line white, brick walls. Six other allies occupy the cell,

the women trade stories, refuse bail together. Solidarity, they say.

She smiles in agreement, swallowing fear the others don’t have.

She can see a clock, hands that crawl over each other, across the hall.

Her arm feels naked without her watch, her shoes lose with missing laces.

One by one, the women sleep.

Rose is kept awake by cold. Disturbed by human security cameras

on the other side of the stretching window which covers a wall.

The night drags on as silent tears trace her cheeks.

As others sleeps, she removes her shoe, sock, and stares at those

permanent black lines that stretch over the bones.

A comfort they can never take away.

She finds a small magnet, a flat silver circle,

and spends hours rolling it back and forth over the metal

windowsill. Frozen when glances strike, fearful her only toy will be taken away.

Her bladder swollen, she refuses to use the silver seatless toilet

with officers that gawk through the window.

Its worth waiting for a door, she promises.

One by one, the others awake, breakfast is brought

at six. Gelatinous grits, forming spirals when the spork

scrapes across. Bread, butter, milk. She can’t bring herself to eat

off the scarred plastic tray. At nine am, the six are handcuffed with seven others,

brought up by an elevator from the belly of the jail. Forced into

a fenced room, the thirteen trade stories.

One woman, her nineteenth birthday, jailed for resisting arrest,

Her boyfriend shot, she refused to enter to patrol car for questioning

without her infant daughter.

One woman stabbed her husband, she didn’t regret it.

He wouldn’t stop hitting her.

One woman smashed car windows, needed a wallet

to pay for dinner.

The stories went on, Rose’s heart sank with every word.

They all live so close to her, a city with streets darker

than she knew.

One by one, called out of the cage, they face the judge.

Passing time by talking,

a fellow prisoner cries, “They have the money-making machine.

So why are we poor? Just print more.”

Rose is perplexed, how could she not understand

economics past the green inside her wallet?

Most women who leave disappear for good,

the judge frees them onto the leaf-littered streets once again.

Those that return with tear stained eyes,

the sentence meaning more than a few days in jail,

but the loss of jobs, homes, families. Bail too high to pay.

Rose stares at her shoes,

she would be back in class by five o’clock.

The chainlink door opens for her, facing a judge who asks simple questions.

Rose answers, sleepless eyes stare at those gathered in the courtroom.

She is given a court date, various papers, freedom.

Riding home in Nick’s red Fiat, a bag of her belongings on her lap,

she falls asleep against the glass, her head gently bumps the window with every turn.

They cruise into suburbia, where dog-walking men with white heads and soccer-mom joggers

line the streets. When she wakes, she can’t explain to Nick

the way her eyes have been opened. Her words are trapped by guilt.

For years those women trail her,

after her case is dismissed,

after Nick moves to Israel,

after she is no longer known as, “the freshman who got arrested,”

the haunting guilt still creeps up her throat, wells in her eyes,

roosts.

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