the disappeared sign directs us past
our usual turn and destination
to an island in the archipelago
which we or at least I always knew
was there but had not actually seen
so, finally, we see the maxi-prison
of the great, gross gulag
and turn around only to miss you again
our turning all the more unmarked as we
approach from opposite direction
so we stop, of course, at the gas station
where the owner’s irritated tone points
once more to where we’ve just been

when we finally find the crossroad
and head toward our place of incarceration
I can’t help thinking of all the mostly poor folk
the families of all those mostly poor inmates
as they attempt to keep contact with their loved ones
surrounded by fences, barbed wire, and walls
way out here in this suburban labyrinth
so far from their center city homes
where property prices and owners
never wanted institutions of inmates
and now apparently have disappeared
the always barely visible signal
that somewhere, somehow they exist


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.