“time’s invisible penitentiary”

Standard

Serving Time
Charles Simic
Another dreary day in time’s invisible
Penitentiary, making license plates
With lots of zeros, walking lockstep counter-
clockwise in the exercise yard or watching
The lights dim when some poor fellow,
Who could as well be me, gets fried.

Here on death row, I read a lot of books.
First it was law, as you’d expect.
Then came history, ancient and modern.
Finally philosophy—all that being-and-nothingness stuff.
The more I read, the less I understand.
Still, other inmates call me professor.

Did I mention that we had no guards?
It’s a closed book who locks
And unlocks the cell doors for us.
Even the executions we carry out
By ourselves, attaching the wires,
Playing warden, playing chaplain

All because a little voice in our head
Whispers something about our last appeal
Being denied by God himself.
The others hear nothing, of course,
But that, typically, you may as well face it,
Is how time runs things around here.

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