“Off Easy,” “Hey, Mr. D.” and “You Said to Come Ready”

by Jennifer Schneider

Off Easy

You let me off easy, you said. No time.

What you didn’t say was all the dollars probation would cost.

You let me off easy, you said. But what’s easy

about searching for cash that doesn’t exist,

just to mail in forms for you to file away? What’s easy

about needing to ask for time off from work, to meet

your officers, who have nothing to say, and

who don’t care that I needed that hour’s pay

to keep on my lights and to pay my son’s school.

No wonder there’s always a next time.

What would you do, Judge, if your baby cried out of hunger?

If your wife shivered in a cold basement apartment?

If your mama needed meds to help her breathe?

What’s easy about not knowing how to explain a missed game,

to a son who still doesn’t believe I’m coming home each night,

just to meet your officers for a 10-minute “meeting”

that is 60 miles in the wrong direction, only to suffer

their disinterested stares and smoky corridors?

No wonder quitting is so hard. Nothing. Nothing

easier than life on the other side, I say. It’s harder

out here. In there, I can close my eyes to the tears.

To the cries. In there, I can’t lose dignity I never had.

There’s nothing easy about any of your protocols.

Next time, I’ll choose the hard way. Cause the easy way,

it ain’t so easy.

Hey, Mr. D.

Hey, Mr. D. I see you. Do you see me?

You call my number twice a day.

Sometimes more. I cause you

no trouble. I do as you say.

Hey, Mr. D. Do you see me?

I know the sounds of your step.

Your black sneakers are my

favorite. Even though your

pants are too short.

I wonder who

gave them to you.

Do you have a son, Mr. D.?

I’m gonna buy

my own pair. One day.

I watch for the light

That bounces off your

whistle and lets me know

you approach. I hear your breathing,

More labored as the day goes on.

I worry about you, Mr. D.

Does that surprise you?

I make no rules. Nor do you.

Both of us, broken pieces

in the system. Some say you

correct us. I say you bring

us peace. We don’t decide

our moves. Not in here. But you,

you move beyond. What’s it like

on the other side, Mr. D.? Do

You still wear your whistle?

Do you look up, at the sky?

I can’t remember

what it looks like.

Tell me, please.

What do you see?

I no longer can.

I listen, instead. Our 5 AM bell.

My routine begins. Yours, too.

Predictability. That’s what I’ve got,

On this side. What I never

had out there.

Do you like it out there?

I hope so, Mr. D.

Do you ever think of me?

When you’re out there?

On the other side?

I hope so, Mr. D.

I see you.

You Said to Come Ready

You said to come ready

Bring your best

So I did

My Vans

I love

Those shoes

My denim

The pair that

Fits me just right

You said to come ready

Bring your best

So I did

I got there early

But they

were already there

They came ready

They brought their best

They fit just right

My Vans couldn’t

compete

with their spikes

My denim felt wrong

When up against

their lycra tights

They knew the rules

Where to stand

How to talk

I knew

only the address

The corner of 6th and Broad

My home turf

They drive in

Lock all doors

I take the train

And forget to lock mine

There’s nothing

To take

Their cars are

gassed up

Ready to go

My train runs late

a 6-minute delay

System problems

System problems

I love a good game

But I need the rules

About the Author

Jennifer Schneider

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. Her work appears in The Coil, The Popular Culture Studies Journal, One Sentence Stories, and other literary and scholarly journals.