Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Jarred"

This poem came out of the June 2, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] lynnoconnacht. It also fills the "Eat Something Delicious and/or Healthy" square in my 5-20-15 card for the Wellness Toolbox Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. Bear in mind that this poem happens immediately after Shiv's release from prison, so it's a lot farther down the line than recent poems; there are more in between, some written and others not. But you should know enough of the storyline by now not to feel lost.

Warning: This is actually less of a blender ride than most of Shiv's perspective, but he's still feeling overwhelmed from being out in the world again. If that's touchy territory for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


When Shiv got out of prison,
the first thing he did was
to look for a gas station.

He didn't need gas;
he could get home on a bus.

He needed comfort food.

The sun beat down,
turning the parking lot
into a gigantic griddle
on which the customers
sizzled as they pumped gas.

Shiv gathered his necessaries --
pocket knife, lighter, cigarettes --
without giving them a second glance
on the way to the counter.

A stand of prestamped postcards
gave him momentary pause,
and one snagged his attention:
a baking Nebraska landscape
with cartoon flames painted over it,
a cute devil with a pitchfork in one hand
and a bouquet of roses in the other,
under the caption Wish You Were Here.

Chuckling, Shiv picked it up
and added it to his stack,
then continued to the counter.

There beside the cash register
sat the object of his desire,
which he had been fantasizing about
his whole term in the penitentiary:

a jar of pickled pig's feet.

The huge glass jar
was two-thirds full of brine
and tender pink trotters,
its sleek curve magnifying
the delicious tidbits within
as Shiv pressed his nose
against the cool surface.

Long ago, one of his foster families
had been into fishing and would
take all the kids of a weekend,
no matter how hot it got, so that
they lived on salt and fat and sugar
just to keep ahead of the heat.

That's when he got hooked.

His mouth watered,
already imagining the taste
of the sweet-salt liquid
and the rich flesh almost
melting in his mouth.

Shiv swallowed hard.

"You buyin' or just browsin' there, kid?"
the cashier asked in a lazy drawl.

"One pickled pig's foot, please,"
Shiv said, and watched eagerly
as the tongs fished in the jar
to pull out his treat.

The pig's foot went into a cup,
and Shiv paid for everything.

Later he hunched over his prize,
sitting in the back of the bus
as he carefully shaved off
slivers of the soft meat
using only his gift and
a leaf of stainless steel.

He'd learned this trick after
his release from Juvenile Hall,
back when his superpower
was still strange and new
and he had to work to mesh it
with the little rituals of his life.

It was always jarring when
the things you relied on
suddenly became unreliable
and new things popped up
that you hadn't counted on.

Outside the jail, everything was
too bright and too loud and too open,
the people crowding too close
until Shiv just wanted to stab them
to make them back the fuck away.

Instead he focused on the flavor
of his pig's foot, savoring it
one tiny bite at a time,
the salt of it soaking in to soothe
the itching emptiness inside
that he always got in hot weather.

When the hyperactive brat
in the next row turned around
to kick the rear bench,
when the old bus jarred him
going over potholes in the road,
Shiv concentrated on his breaths,
long and slow and deep
like he did when aiming
at the edge of his range.

He turned the postcard
over and over in his hands,
rubbed a fingertip along the edge
of paper too thick to cut him,
and wondered what to say.

You were supposed to write
something on the stupid things,
and he'd forgotten that before
impulsively buying it.

In the end, he just scribbled
"Still breathing," and the address
for Rosie's office at the penitentiary.

When Shiv finally arrived,
he was startled to see
Boss White waiting for him.

None of his former bosses
had ever done anything like that.

There he was, though,
sweat rolling down his dark skin
even with a white linen suit
to keep cool in the heat.

The unexpected courtesy of it
jarred Shiv all over again.

He made it down the steps,
single bag slung over his back
with his pillow and blanket
hidden safely inside as he
slouched over to the bench
where his boss waited patiently.

"I'm back," Shiv said.

"Welcome home, boy," said Boss White,
clasping his shoulder carefully over
the cloth of Shiv's shirt, because
like most telepaths -- even supervillains --
he was mentally fastidious and knew
that the inside of Shiv's head was
a whirling blender of doom.

"Thank you, sir," said Shiv.

"Brought you something,"
Boss White said, handing him
a leatherette binder, small enough
to fit in a roomy pocket.

Shiv flipped it open to find pages
for daily, weekly, and monthly planners.
The first of each had already been filled out.
"What's this for?" he asked.

"It helps get your head back in the game,"
Boss White said. "First month or so
out of the box, you don't want
to try thinking from scratch."

Shiv stared at the notebook,
remembering the mad scramble
he'd faced leaving prison before,
how jarring it was to be left
to your own devices after having
every decision made for you.

That was a thing that could just be fixed?
With a handful of paper and a pen?

No wonder Boss White always
carried one in his pocket.

Curious, Shiv took a closer look.
Toward the back he found
a year-at-a-glance page,
one for important dates,
more for projects and notes.

A sense of structure.

He remembered Rosie taping
a big X on the heavy bag to give him
something to aim for, and wondered
about taking some time for sparring and
practice in the gym where Boss White
bought memberships for everyone.

Shiv flipped back to the schedule
already penciled in -- and there it was,
a gym session all blocked out in
Boss White's squarish print.

"Yeah, boss," said Shiv.
"I can work with this."

"Come on, then," said Boss White,
leading him toward a waiting car.

As they passed a mailbox,
Shiv flicked the postcard at the slot.

It went in.

* * *


Boss White (Dwayne White) -- He has mahogany skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. A very thin line of beard runs down from his hairline in front of the ears and along the edge of his jaw, framing his face. He is cool, tough, and yet also suave.
Boss White controls the underworld of Omaha, Nebraska. He deals in drugs, gambling, and other organized crime. Despite being a supervillain, he is as mentally fastidious as most other telepaths. While he blithely abuses information gleaned from projected thoughts, he never enters another mind without permission, and he has executed at least one criminal telepath for mindrape. His people have included Antimatter, Barf-o-Whirl, Buttons, Shithouse, and Shiv.
Origin: While in prison, he was subjected to mad science experiments.
Uniform: On duty as a supervillain, he wears an ivory suit and hat. Off duty, he wears a charcoal gray or black suit and hat.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Gangster, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Saxophone Player
Poor (-2) Internalized Racism
Powers: Good (+2) Forcefields (Signature Stunts: Invisible Jail, Invisible Staircase, Shield Bash, Trash Compactor), Average (0) Telepathy
Good (+2) Minions: Ebonies & Ivories have 9 named lieutenants, each in charge of his own gang full of common thugs. Lieutenants typically have at least Good (+2) Gangster, a Good musical ability, one other Good, and one Average superpower. These include Lieutenant Brown, Faster Blaster (Zachary Johnson), and Popgun (Tyler Davis).
Motivation: To consolidate power.

* * *

Prison can do so much damage to people that inmates typically have trouble reentering society afterward. They feel overwhelmed by the outside world and struggle to make even simple choices after so long without any. T-America does better by gradually reintroducing choices as inmates move from the standard wing to the privileged wing, along with support for learning practical and social skills that many of them missed earlier. But it's still a rough transition more often than not. It helps to have a mentor who can assist with decision making and other tasks. Boss White knows how to handle it because he's been through it himself, and routinely helps his minions whenever they get out. Resources for reentry include a reentry tool kit.

Comfort food can be anything, but often shares common features such as soft, fatty, salty, etc. Pickled pig's feet are one of those weird delicacies that most people think are gross but some folks just adore. They're popular in the south and west from what I've seen.

A daily planner such as this leatherette one helps organize life so that it seems less overwhelming. Shiv's planner includes daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly pages. There are also pages for important dates, projects, and to-do lists.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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