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The convict and the guard

The desert lay, expansive as a continental sea:
Wave like dunes would rise and throw their dry white melody.
And in the very middle of this powder perfect land
Stood a testament of masonry: the Island in the Sand.
By day the prison walls were dark. They cast their shadows long.
Birds chose other places to bestow their gift of song.
By night the flood lamps shone their light upon the stony ground,
And on the man whose job it was to walk his way around.
His clothes were blue. His head was bald.  His eyes were dark and bright,
Illuminated by the flood of deep, unnatural light.
He walked and stopped and walked again around the empty square,
Although it wasn’t possible that anyone was there:
The prison’s only convict was asleep inside his cell.
The gates were all alarmed and the convict knew it well.
But always round the prison square, the guard would make his rounds.
The clinking of his boots were, often times, the only sounds.
The convict’s uniform was green.  His head was also bald.
He shaved it, first thing, every morning - ‘calming’ it was called.
Calmness was the key to a pleasant prison life. Amen.
And pleasantness, the convict’s only chance to see his wife again.
For half an hour a day, beneath the crisp and watchful sky,
The Sun would shine upon the square – the walls were mighty high.
And every afternoon at 3 the guard would ring the bell;
And the convict would be free, for 30 minutes, from his cell.
Days turned into months and more across the blur of time.
The punishment was clear enough but what had been the crime?
Neither guard nor convict could recall this vital fact,
And yet the sentence held its course; immoveable; intact.
“How long is the sentence now?” The convict asked the guard.
“I do not know,” the guard replied.  “Let’s stroll across the yard.”
“Very well,” the convict answered.  “I could use a stroll.”
Both the men enjoyed the Sun; the lift it gave their soul.
And every day they’d walk the yard as if were the first.
And every day the Sun would quench their metaphoric thirst.
Not another living being had either seen for years.
And both would write their letters home with heart and, sometimes, tears.
The convict had his loving wife, the guard, an aged mother,
And in the absence of their kin they made do with each other.
Meal times were simple. They would break their bread in silence.
And as they were the only two, there was no cause for violence.
3 square meals every day; 21 per week;
Times when silence was the order; times when they could speak.
And over many years of their strolling in the Sun,
Their prison clothes began to fade; their memories undone.
And finally a letter came by courier, from Rome.
“The prisoner is free,” it said.  “The jailer may go home.”
Silence fell between the men.  They knew not what to do.
For in the time they’d bonded they’d forgotten who was who.
© Simon Welsh Poetry 3rd November 2010
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