constitutional rights

the phone rang about 4:30 in the morning
and it was a drunk and   the drunk asked me,
“Are you Charles Bukowski?”
and I said, “Yes.”
and   he said, “Listen, I’m torn-up, I’ve
got to tell you something.   It happened
to my friend.   He made the drunk tank
2 nights ago.   You know what the drunk tank
is, don’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Anyhow, they threw my friend into this
separate cell with five blacks and they
bungholed him, all five of them, they ripped
him wide open.   He couldn’t stand the thought
of it.   While they were asleep he tore a sheet
into strips and hanged himself.”
“Yeah?”
“Yes,” he said, “what do you think of that?”
“It’s nothing new.   The screws do that to
control white guys with too much mouth.”
I hung up.   I could have added that the screws
got particularly irate when some young blonde
boy with clean fingernails started screaming
about constitutional rights.   old guys
knew better:   the only rights were the rights
of a particular given moment.
but the phonecall had awakened me and I
walked to the refrigerator and found a last
lucky beer and I sat in the dark
drinking it, thinking of the time I had been
graced in Philadelphia, young and screaming
about some injustice to mankind.   so they
put me into a short narrow cell, too short
for my height, too narrow to bend over, and
I hung there twisted and corkscrewed, no
toilet, no water, and this very bright light
overhead–brilliant and unrelenting, and a
screw walking up to me and said, “You gonna
stop talking about taking this whole issue to
the Supreme Court?”
“O.k.,” I said, and   he let me out and led me
down to a nice fat cell
all my own.   and in the morning I even got
half a grapefruit (prisoner-grown) & some
oatmeal, coffee and a big slice of fresh
bread.         –the other thing: about the
blacks, the blacks were just like women–
they were playing catch-up and had to be
crueler than they had to be.   I
finished the beer and went back to
bed.