A note slipped into
the lining of a cheap purse
sewn by deadweight hands,
machines resounding

the automation of life
between four walls
no one else will know
how far away, how

inmates in the Yingshan Prison
in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours
daily with no break/rest at noon

and black faux-leather becoming
an identical cipher packaged
air-tight into boxes are
shipped to the home of the brave

to be pawed at by desperate
shoppers; mall moms
trail toddlers under fluorescent
wash, swim through merchandise,

continue working overtime until 12 midnight,
and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be
beaten — their meals are without oil and salt,

fast, distracted hands run
over pockets and poorly-made
zipper, flip of price tag — “this will do”

tossing purse into cart among
spread of diapers and tv dinners
and gliding to checkout aisle 4

every month, the boss pays the inmate
2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be
finished by the police. If the inmates are sick
and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary.

credit card emerges from the depth
banal beep over laser scanner
items dumped into flurry of plastic

monotone “Thank you” of
name-tag touting employee,
great doors slide open

prison in China is unlike prison in America,
horse cow goat pig dog —

“My heart went into my stomach”
she says, note unfurled in hand —

the outside world is suddenly
a gleam of cars, sunshine,
fast food signs


This poem was a reaction to this news article which came out several months ago.

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