By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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I pull the old cord from the base,
its black cloth rotted from the wires,
because my mother says this brass desk lamp
belonged to her great-grandmother,
who kept it on the table
beside the bed to which she was confined,
her ancient bones breaking
and rebreaking. At eighty-five,
she instructed my mother, age six: Now, dearie,
in the top drawer beneath my underthings
you’ll find some pliers. . . .
I need replacement parts and lack
the words — have only round piece,
curved piece, thing. My mother offers me
a yellowed repair manual from 1963,
its diagrams as intricate as a body.
I learn socket shell, harp holder,
tube nut; I learn to tie the underwriter’s knot,
looping the new cord through itself
as insurance against fire, electrocution.
My mother married, had two children, got divorced;
she used to put the kids to bed
then take a sledgehammer
to a kitchen wall
that no longer pleased her.
Waking at night to the sound of demolition,
I learned the breaking down
and subsequent repairing of the world.
In the morning, dust everywhere,
no breakfast, light in a different place.
Sarah Pemberton Strong