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
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 Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017 .