Holding Cell 3, Codington County
I would never spend time with Tennessee
outside of a jail cell.
That was his name
and he gave the state a bad one.
Neither of us should’ve been in South Dakota.
Besides hate, he was trafficking drugs,
trying to launder his addiction into profit.
I was there because everything was breaking
down except my car.
He had thunderbolts on his neck
as black as a night sky over Dachau.
His arm was a bone wrapped in skin
with barely enough room for the tattoo
of a woman on a stripper pole
with the word “HUSTLE” stamped below.
The ink woman’s face was completely
shrouded in long black hair.
He said it’s because he’s had to hustle
as hard as an ugly stripper.
Tennessee has the charm of a dental drill.
Pity isn’t the right word
but I feel something for him.
He has the aura of an abandoned house
that has a foundation made out of
the losing end of wishbones,
covered in the graffiti of ignorance
that he now pretends was a paint job
he had chosen.
On his other string cheese arm
he has a portrait of his mom,
the only person he’s felt love for
in his whole life, as he tells it.
Now I gotta tell you,
faces with realism are difficult
for even highly skilled tattoo artists
and nothing on his body
was made by an artist.
His mother’s face looks ghastly and
shaken like a face leaning against a bus window.
He told me he thought he’d never shoot dope
in that arm because his mama would be watching.
Eventually he did
and while it’s been a long time since the drugs felt good
he tells me the high is especially bad
when it’s in front of mama.
Rugged living and low quality has made
his mother’s face fade fast.
With the sadness of erasing
a future baby shower from the calendar,
he tells me
her face can’t fade
By David Icenogle
David Icenogle is a writer and mental health advocate who writes about his own experience with mental illness. He has publications with Asylum Magazine, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Passengers Journal, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and A Tether to this World.