Prison Singers

Sitting in the corner
by himself, no one around
Sat a man, all old and wrinkled
Lips were moving, but no sound
Came forth from this man’s mouth,
his lips all cracked and dry,
You could stand right there and listen
And hear nothing if you tried

Each day I walked the prison yard
this man sat in his place
Never talking to another
Just staring off in space
He sat, just sat, and sang his silent songs
No one else could hear but him
The men around the prison said
“He’s just Old Crazy…him!”

He was kept upon another block
Not the one where I made home
He’d been there for eternity
Back when cars still had big chrome
I dare not ask why he was here
Some things you didn’t do
so, I sat there watching this man sing
And I thought “just who are you?’

He’d sing his songs come rain or shine
Never looked out past the fence
The world out there meant nought to him
It held no consequence
The 809 would pass each day
Whistle blowing in the air
The rest of us, stared dreamlike
And we wished that we were there

But the old man in the corner
didn’t blink or even look
Even though as the ’09 passed
The ground around us shook
He held his place in silence
Rheumy eyes and cracked old mouth
Held the secrets of his lifetime
A man of wisdom from the south

I got the will and walked on up
to where he sat and sang
And back behind the others stood
And I could hear a few say “Dang!”
I stood there, right in front of him
And I couldn’t hear a word
Except the soft and gentle cooing
Like a tiny, baby bird

I realized the sound was him
It was his singing in my ears
It was soft and smooth and gentle
It was almost bringing me to tears
He looked clear on, right through me
Sang his songs but did not budge
I blocked his way upon his exit
And I said “It’s not for me to judge”……

I could hear the loud collective gasp
From the crowd who’d formed behind
And when they saw me stop his exit
They must have thought I’d lost my mind
I asked him in a gentle voice,
so no one else behind could know
about why he sang so silently
Like an angel, soft as snow

He said, “You know, I have no name”
“I’ve been here long enough, it’s gone
“My name now is my number
“Although they sometimes call me John”
“I just don’t know, if John is me
“he was from another time”
“So, I forgot just who I used to be
“And I sing my songs and rhyme”

“I used to have a name, I’m sure”
“But, now I need it less and less”
“They only need it for my marker”
“I’m dying here I guess”
“It makes it easy to get by here”
“When they think you’re mad as hell”
“They just leave me to my corner”
“And to me that’s just as well”

I thought a bit and smiled
At this man, who’d shared his tale
And I hoped I never lost me
That my name was not for sale
I refused to be a number
Although I knew that in the end
That I too, would die in here
And it would be easy without friends

So, I picked myself a corner
One where the man and I could see
I would sing to him in silence
As he would sing to me
The old man died a few years back
But I still sit and sing the same
I think I know still, who I am
But I’m not sure I know my name…

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