I am minded today of the Arundrati Roy quote to seek joy in the saddest places. We need to be reminded of joy and a prison qualifies as a sad place, but my husband and I and about fifty souls witnessed it yesterday in our local low security prison. I feel it warrants memorialising in my poetry journal. As backstory for you to understand the context of how it came about, I need to explain that they run a coffee shop that is open to the public, as well as having a car wash and polytunnels where you can buy plants. This is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland so there were a lot of visitors about the campus on a Sunday. The barristas in the coffee shop had been chatting to some of the regulars who work with a group of disabled young adults locally. They cooked up the idea of throwing a bit of a Halloween party for them, got the chief’s blessing and threw themselves into having a wee kareoke yesterday afternoon.
Since I am both an adult and and American born, they had no problem in getting me to dust off my witch’s costume (complete with cauldron as purse and besom – oops, forgot the flying ointment!). My husband has a wizard’s cape and another member of the public dressed up as Queen of the Night to add to the atmosphere. One of the guys bought decorations while out on temporary release. Paid from his own pocket I may add, from his €2.20 an hour wages as barrista.
We need to spread the joy. No photographs since that is an Irish Prison Service no-no. The jackolantern has to speak for us all.
You wouldn’t have believed it
to know that years ago
Steven had seized and seized and seized,
a ceaseless neurological event
that nearly extinguished him,
that left him in hospital a full year.
But here he is growling out Breakfast Roll,
stamping his feet, knowing all the words,
giving it as much soul
as any Motown microphone ever heard.
He didn’t bring the prison down – quite.
He raised its roof though. I saw so many doors
swing wide open and so many smiles that
went right straight to the eyes for the first time
in too long. We all grinned so much our jaws ached.
And then Steven switched it up,
crooning a song. Megan and Mary mimed to the words.
Heart for love, empty arms as language for lonely.
Fifty pairs of eyes beheld them mistily.
And clapped and applauded. And still everyone smiled.
No matter they sang a bit off key. So don’t all of we.
But heart and soul and being inside the song.
You don’t see that so very often.
Later, when the bus had taken them all home,
the barristas mopped the counter, did the washing up.
One of the guys, a lifer, gave out a little sigh,
said, Today was a good day, smiling again at the memory.
Steven and Megan and Mary and Michael
and all the rest who go around wearing medical labels,
you are the joy givers. We bow to you,
those who show us all how to.
Copyright © Bee Smith 2018