In Custody

by Kimberly Wilder

Four policemen surrounded her that morning.
A Shinnecock man was on his way to chant.

Lots of eyes watched her dragged away in handcuffs.
A female officer was there to scold her in the car.

Who’s going to be there when she breaks down?

They inventoried her possessions.
They searched her for weapons.
Right after she imagined the last one raping her, her husband finally arrived

Her husband has to talk to the lawyers.
Her husband has to fight by telephone.
In between, he must go to work
as if the injustice never happened.
As if it is safe to leave her alone.

Her husband leaves the house each morning.
So, who’s going to be there when she breaks down?

When she walks among strangers she thinks she can manage.
She holds fast to thoughts of the ceremony she honored.
She holds her head high,
rides out little waves of fear.

It is with friends that the feelings dare leave her.
At a party or small gathering the tears will press against her.
Words start to choke her: words for the sergeant,
words for the shoving, words for the shock,
words for the makers of guns and cell bars and neat white desks with handcuff irons,
words for the mothers of little boys
who let them grow up to yell at women, love violence, ignore pleas.

Who’s going to be there when she breaks down?
Not the mothers of the little boys, proud to see them in uniform.
Not her mother, on the phone, insisting “You must have done something.”
Not her mother who offers her only tender moments of shame.

Where will she be when she breaks down?

Will she be standing on a sidewalk like she was that morning?
Will she be in the middle of her own very peaceful, very normal life?
Will she be in the middle of story time with her students?
Then, how will they take her away?
Who will explain to her students their teacher, shaken, lost, and grieving?

Where will she be when she breaks down?

Will it be before the judge, and will he think she is putting on a show?
Will it be before the police and they will gloat?
Perhaps she will she be holding her friend’s baby while mamma sings on stage?

Babies, she knows she must stay away from.
Babies are warm and forgiving and so powerful
how they listen to your lullabies.
Babies she knows she must stay away from
if she is not yet ready to break down.

She felt the ache for a babe in arms
as soon as they placed her on the wooden bench.
As soon as they sat her down, alone and forsaken,
she knew she should have had a child with her.
If she had a child with her,
the sergeant would have remembered she was a woman and he shouldn’t yell.
If she had a baby with her they would have remembered she was a female
(not so unlike her Victorian Grandmother)
and that even with all that has come between, she should not have–
for the crime of playing flute to a dying elm–
been placed in a dirty cell with a rusty, mildewed toilet
and a feeling in the air of danger, humiliation,
and men struggled to the ground in handcuffs.

Where will she be when she breaks down?
Perhaps she will be in her own kitchen.
cleaning, and cleaning the floor.
Scrubbing and scrubbing out her feelings of shame and humiliation.
Or, perhaps she will be only sitting at the kitchen table,
imagining herself in ribbons.
Imagining her new image of her husband and her tied together with silk ribbons.
Fantasizing some way that the authorities can never separate them again.
Fantasizing that they can not make her go to jail again.
Fantasizing her husband is destined to prevail.

For now, she is at the mercy of the men with guns.
For now, she is at the mercy of the court.
She must have manners. Beg their pardon.
Pretend they haven’t hurt her. Pretend she isn’t angry.
While her husband carries her banner, fights her battle.

She wants to be tied to him with ribbons.
She wants to be sure
there is going to be someone there when she breaks down.

One Response

  1. Hey Kimberly, remember me? I am sure you do.. looking for jims email and found your site. this poem is beautiful. didnt know you wrote poetry. so do i. have been really writing since my daughter died. sometimes the only way to have any peace. hope you and Ian are alright.
    Laura Leslie Hallinan

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