C.O. Watkins talks about work

There’re times I stare at the wire curling above

The fence and think it’s almost beautiful,

Shining against the empty sky at night

When the floodlights scan the perimeter

Then pause to frame some frightened cat or deer—

In the old movies it would be a man

Caught in that light, but never one I’ve seen.

I got this job a year ago last month,

And I’m already looking for another.

I’m like a sheepdog dressed in brown, herding

Inmates to feeding and back to dormitories.

I line them up and count them and tell them

To shut their god-damned mouths, I’ve had enough.

I carry a gun I never want to use,

Talk a lot tougher than I actually am,

But if I had to shoot or kick some ass

I would in a heartbeat—inmates are scum,

And you can’t trust them. They all want something.

They’ll con you for a broken pencil stub.

A package of soup or ramen noodles is

Currency here. The books stay in the library,

Or they’d be traded too. I’m searched when I’m

Buzzed in and hear the door click shut, the plastic

Bag with my lunch and bottled water checked

For contraband and anything “excessive.”

I work for the state so the benefits are good.

My husband says to stay at least until

I’m pregnant next or he gets his promotion.

He doesn’t understand I’m fucking tired.

Last night I heard an owl swoop down and sink

Its claws in something just outside the fence.

I could have sworn the scream had come from me.


Once a New England academic, George Franklin now practices law on Miami Beach, teaches writing in Florida state prisons, teaches yoga classes when he’s not taking yoga classes, and stays up late writing poetry. When people ask him what he does, it takes him a minute. His poems have appeared in Salamander, The Ghazal Page, The Threepenny Review, Verse, Matter, Gulf Stream, and Vending Machine Press, and are forthcoming in Sheila-Na-Gig and Rumble Fish Quarterly.