“Eight Days in Mercy” by Cynthia Morgan Nichols

“Favela” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas.

The strip-search nurse counts
my bruises, asks how I got them—
elbow, knee, hip—
I don’t know
I tell her, hands covering my breasts,
legs backsliding as she guides me
to the holding place
where others slump, oxy-blue
in skid-resistant socks; while
a world flutters mercurial, we are
brought back to order,
forced to stay
with dread-locked cravings
pacing a black tar fog
down hallways,
spilling wide-arched
into each other as feeling starts
to come back.

On the East ward I carry myself
with Prozac poise: ask for lip balm, participate
in group (they tell me
my Birkenstocks are smart shoes
for this place). My roommate surrenders
on her knees every morning, every night
against a hard board bed. I love
this place, I think, stripped and walking
patterned paces doubling back
suddenly popular
despite no phone calls, no visitors
saying my name.

Nights we count off
to the guard; a fast file out
into a frozen yard cut
by 12-foot razor wire; humming,
drumming, looping, we circle
newcomers; standing in twos and threes,
we assume vacant spaces; beneath
a void moon, we light
our cigarettes, one off the other, brightening
then dimming; a brief



Cynthia Morgan Nichols lives in midtown Memphis and works at the University of Memphis Libraries. She enjoys painting, yoga and walking through her historic neighborhood.