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KNIGHT, Etheridge

Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane

Hard Rock / was / “known not to take no shit

From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:

Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above

His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut

Across his temple and plowed through a thick

Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD / was / that Hard Rock wasn’t a mean nigger

Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,

Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity

Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,

Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,

Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.

And we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,

To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak

Of his exploits: “Man, the last time, it took eight

Screws to put him in the Hole.” “Yeah, remember when he

Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?” “He set

The record for time in the Hole--67 straight days!”

“Ol Hard Rock! man, that’s one crazy nigger.”

And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit

A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came, to see if Hard Rock was really tame.

A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch

And didn’t lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock

From before shook him down and barked in his face.

And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and looked silly,

His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock

Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name,

We told ourselves that he had just wised up,

Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long,

And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.

He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things

We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do,

The fears of years, like a biting whip,

Had cut deep bloody grooves

Across our backs.