DNA of the Cell By Eli Binkovitz

DNA of the Cell

All sixteen of us tell the cop the same address
when she asks. We all forget our height
and none of us has ever been weighed.
Only our proverbial lawyer knows why
we were locked together in the street,
or where we had assembled our equipment,
or who was in charge (if anyone).

We are all earnest eyes,
only rolling behind their backs.

Midwestern accent in a blue uniform tells one of us
“I spoke with your imam. He says
remove your headscarf. He says
do whatever we tell you to.”
Cop says / Imam says / Simon says.
None of us believe this story,
or believe we were meant to believe it.

I am unclinked from where we sixteen are
cuffed to the bench,
and photographed and searched
between my toes, beneath my underwear.

I am shuffled to my own cell. I can hear
muffled in the concrete echoes,
a woman crying for help.
My arm, she says, I think it’s broken.
Authorities inform her to expect a doctor
in the morning.

The bench in my cell has gathered
remnants of other inmates:
lint, a litany of DNA,
dust of skin cells, tiny springs
and helices of hairs, all black.

I don’t shiver. My breathing marks
slow time. I am not pulled from my cell
in the night to be swallowed into
the black-site belly of Chicago.

I am not blindfolded in an unmarked
window-tinted cruiser parked in some vacant
dead-grass lot. I don’t feel
the metal muzzle of two
hundred documented human rights violations
(later condemned by the U.N.)
against my temple. Nor am I erased
into the 72-hour static that betrays no trace
of my uncounted names or dates
of countless countless births.

I am not zip-tied at the wrists
anymore, and my hands are not swollen, purplish,
numb, or heavy. I am not waiting for the questions:
Can you bend it? Can you put weight on it?
Can you move it? Can you feel it?
Does it hurt now?
Does it hurt now?
Does it hurt now?

The stone-concrete stuff from which the cell carves itself
blanches pale blue like cold lips.
Painting the liminal minutes with my thin
voice I sing old words too grandiose
for the nondescript occasion of my voluntary arrest.
But I like the tune and the illumination
they fill the cell with, warming it
at the fire of history’s good struggles.

The bench is fitted with a thin, dirty mattress,
which I carefully balance on its side.
Maybe I have to sleep here, definitely
someone will. Someone whose hair is black.
I take a fistful of thin tissue
from the steel toilet-sink, kneel
before the neglected bed-bench
and start cleaning up the place.

I don’t even get halfway done before an officer
opens the door, looks at me wiping down
the blue-lip stone stuff as if she’d walked in on
some strange ritual or unauthorized lovemaking,

tells me I’ve been processed, time for me to leave.

Why did you do that? She asks in the hallway.
I realize after I start to answer
In case no one else was going to
that I don’t know whether she meant cleaning the bench,
or chaining ourselves together in the street
to demand the state stop pouring our hearts into
love letters made of guns and money.

By Eli Binkovitz


Eli Binkovitz is a Jewish, genderqueer emerging poet living in Chicago. They have a degree in German Studies from Oberlin College and in 2007 contributed to a translation of Thomas Brasch’s collection of poems “What I Wish For Myself” from German into English. Their favorite poet right now is Daniel Borzutzky.

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  1. Pingback: DNA of the Cell at Rising Phoenix Review – Eli Writes

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