Bent Time

by Paige Gilchrist

The visitor checkpoint at the men’s
prison feels like the back-office
of a rural school, standing still in time.

Cinder block under fluorescent glare, blue
carpet worn gray. Memos dated years
ago, displayed in a locked case:
New Policy. Be Aware. Do Not.

It’s eerie-warm and cloudy on this late winter day.
I remember how a friend said out-of-season weather
can seem to bend time, curl it back on itself. The way
I can’t help but see everyone as little once, learning to
count, tie shoes, tell time.

When I arrive to teach, it’s shift change. Guns
transfer hands. Storage doors slam. Handcuffs and keys
clank with each step toward a 12-hour stretch.

The guard who checks me in is one of the good guys.
I can tell by the way he smiles, leans against the metal
detector. The way his uniform, half a size too big,
looks like a costume as he calls up to the tower
that I’m on my way.

I stand inside the first locked gate, waiting for the second
to buzz open, and watch him, framed by razor wire.
He lowers the flags and gazes. Trying, like all the other small
boys here, to see past the Craggy Mountains, to remember
a summer storm rolling in.

Paige Gilchrist spent many years as an editorial director for a nonfiction division of Barnes & Noble publishing. She had a midlife career change and baby, and is now teaching yoga, raising a teenager, and, thanks to the wonderful Great Smokies programs, exploring more creative forms of writing.