George David Clark

The Prison Beneath the Pacific

How deep? Some six thousand meters,

in meters. In light years

it’s further than Vega. Deep

as any man’s pride and then some—

you can hear the Earth move

her bowels. Men sink

in a blue submersible:

eight sets of restraints and an airlock

that drops off new inmates like roe.

There’s always an odd breeze

in the hallways. While one machine

filters old air, another translates

the water to oxygen.

Two times a year a sub stocks the larder,

but the milk and fresh fruits

only last a few weeks.

All this you could learn

from the press kit. It’s the people

that make the place strange.

We guards are the types

who would go there for money,

to squat in the devil’s attic

six months at a go. The inmates

have done terrible things,

but for long stretches everyone’s quiet.

Of course, we keep them drugged,

and it is always night.

They savor a green-gray paste,

that’s neither lima beans nor broccoli,

despite what it says on the tins.

They read biographies mostly.

Sometimes one kills another

with his hands. More than a few

of them sing in their bunks,

no words you can easily recognize.

And for hours each day

they look out through a hundred

fist-sized portholes—

one punched in the wall of each cell.

There, beyond sputtering floodlights,

the deep-sea biology wanders,

drawn by the shine and our noise:

anglerfish, yeti crabs, gulper eels,

squid. And then on occasion,

a genuine monster slides fins

or oblivious tentacles leisurely

over the glass. The extent

of her magnitude is veiled by the dark,

but every mind shudders at the gaps

she performs in the ceaseless

descent of the soft marine snow.




“The Prison Beneath the Pacific” first appeared in The Cincinnati Reviewvol. 14, no. 1, 2017 .