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   d i v i n e    p l a n:    e a s t e r n    s t a t e    p e n i t e n t i a r y

--- N A T A S H A   S A J É

Ruins now, 
                      in a cherry orchard
                                                     on a hill above the city—

           white washed cells 
                                 around a central observation point: a divine plan 

                                 by the Friends of Philadelphia in 1820.

It would, said the Friends, counter the promiscuity of the gaol
          with its alcohol, its garnish, its dishonest 

    It would counter the chain gang, 
                                          the sport of the vicious working in public,
                                                                 not punish bodies

                                                        but reform souls.

                                           No more stocks, pillories, tortures.

                                           Think monastery—inmates 
                                asked only to pray
                     each in his own quiet cell, skylit, windowless, his own voice 

                                           Think penitent, from Latin, to be sorry.

          If you go see it,
if you walk the deserted corridors, place yourself in the 

mid-point of the starfish

                               you are the guard watching all the arms
                               with a clever system of mirrors.

          But if the prisoner,

your food is given to you through a slot in the sealed door,
you have no work, no book except the Bible.

You do not see a human face or hear a human voice for years.

                                                                  Complete and austere,

           secret from the clatter of the city.

           Thick inside thick walls, your punishment acts deeply 
                      on your heart,
                      on the soft fibers of your brain.

                                            Its radiant form, its gossamer sticky web—
                                                                  the seed of experiment—
                                            like bindweed, like staph

                      with you, this very moment its object.

                                                   Though you have committed no crime,

                                                               though you are not imprisoned

                                                                                or surveyed.

                                                                                      You can sleep soundly.

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2003 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |