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A small hourglass rests on a red glowing background
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

An unusual hourglass is my clock.
Within its unbreakable glass
Drops a grain of sand —
A lone grain of sand! —
Down its pinched waist,
Every day!
Is this the hourglass —
This artifice of timewarp —
That Death¹ raps and bedevils his fingers on,
Grinning evilly?

These 25-foot-high cinder block walls
Have been petrifying
My facial muscles.
Is that why
I am unable to pull up a smile
As effortlessly as in my infancy?
Has all this concrete
Cast a satanic spell
On me, on us?
I embody
Those isolated for too long!
I am catching on —
My half a decade is turning the corner! Then one evening,
I chance upon Caitlyne Gonzales’2 voice breaking through these walls,
Drifting on radio waves —
Her teary, tremulous testimony —
Un-petrifies me!
The anti-spell!
The moment Grief surrenders
To her nerves of steel,
I attune to her
Flowering promise.

Like a relief sculpture,
I sink against the wall.
And as, once upon a time,
Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Breathed the Life
Showered down to their nostrils
By Aten,3
I do too —
Not a king,
But an outcast of outcasts.
O thousand-rayed Sun,
Fountain of all nourishment,
Am I your offspring
That you burn through these smoky clouds
To nourish me with your tenderness?
“Just so,”4 the Sun shines down on me. “Just so.”

The oasis of salvation
Falters and wavers,
Appears and disappears,
Like a mirage in a scorching desert.
A nomad,
Lurching through the forever-shifting
Scorpion-ridden sands,
I am.


  1. Death: See Hans Holbein’s depictions in “Dance of Death,” a collection of woodblock prints created from 1523 to 1525 and first published as a volume in 1538.
  2. Caitlyne Gonzales: 10-year-old Uvalde school shooting survivor who went on to advocate for gun control measures.
  3. Aten: The ancient Egyptian sun-god (as depicted, for example, in a limestone house shrine of Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three of their daughters, held by Germany’s Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).
  4. Just so“: Echoes the words uttered by Surya, the Hindu sun-god, as quoted in John D. Smith’s abridged translation of the epic poem “The Mahābhārata,” when his son, Karna, relates a dream he had, in which the sun-god himself had entered to prevent this son’s untimely death.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Rāmdev is a poet incarcerated in Pennsylvania.