“I didn’t get in trouble
whenever I drank, but whenever
I got in trouble I was drinking,”
says Wayne. We’re sitting together
with ten inmates in folding chairs.
I like Wayne, I like his thinking,
I even like his God and his prayers.
The herd of Morgan horses
in his pasture comes alive
with light when the sun springs off them.
I like how he talks about his wife.
We passed the farm of his childhood
on our way, where cellar holes
gape here and there in such woods
as were spared when the hundred acres
got developed and took on names
of things that got pushed away:
Black Bear Road. Grouse Lane.
It was dark by the time we passed there.
We’d agreed to come and talk
about a problem the pair of us share.
Most of these cons do, too.
I spent a few nights in the slammer,
that’s all. Disorderly conduct.
I was drunk, of course. As I seemed forever.
I always played the drunken
fool—like Wayne, who got locked up
for much longer and much more often,
who sits here now and recalls
himself as a wall-eyed youngster.
He got teased, he says, and his tears
ran not down his cheeks but his shoulders.
“So I grew up angry, a brawler, a bully.”
He stayed one until he said
the first of his only two prayers: God help me.
The other one’s just Thank you.
What’s a miracle? Wayne knows:
“Getting what you need
just when you need it most.”
The jailbirds—and it shows—
have only come for a break.
Hell, I know that. And of course Wayne does.
The minute he got out,
sick-drunk and fighting-tough,
he’d get himself dragged back in.
“I had to have enough
to call it enough for good.”
I think I see one inmate
study the floor and nod.
“Break people’s heads and puke
and do things I can’t imagine.
No one done them for me.
You got to take some action,
can’t park right there where you are.”
He tries his silly slogan:
God don’t steal parked cars.
“But I do,” smirks a felon.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.