Category Archives: Poetry

Good Apples, by Alan Devenish

Good Apples

Reading Macbeth’s monologue
in the women’s maximum security
prison, the room goes quiet—
those petty tomorrows tumbling
toward a furious nothing—until
a voice among the lowered heads
intones, “He’s talking about us.”
“It’s just like here,” someone else
says, “every day the same.” Affirmative
murmurs fill our circle. Then the student
with the baseball cap and bag of snacks
sighs, “Well, this is depressing,”
which somehow lifts the mood,
a deprecatory pebble dropped
into the gloom, rippling out
into laughter.

A shout in the hallway—the guard
calling the line. The women stand, pack
their see-through knapsacks, square
the circled desks back into rows,
then form ranks for their return
to yesterday’s tomorrow.

Earlier, unbagging my night-class fare
of cheese and crackers, I hoped
the badly needed rain would stop
before the long drive home.
But not bad, that apple
from our moribund tree
still squeezing out some sweetness
before the fruit falls, bruised
surfeit for some foraging bear.

Exiting, I notice they’ve painted
the cinderblock white with black
borders, as if color itself were a crime.
My inked wrist fluoresces under the lamp’s
ultraviolet eye, and the officer
in her Plexiglas booth releases me
with the simple twist of a switch.

With better luck and a touch of grace
(a summary pardon declaring these women
all good apples), my students in their prison
-issue drab would also find themselves
outside the clanging gates, clothed
in the warm end of the spectrum,
the soft floodlit rain falling
on their upturned faces.

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Artist Statement: “Good Apples” owes its origin to my students’ response to a reading of the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ” soliloquy from Macbeth in our poetry class. I chose the speech to illustrate the use of metaphor but what occurred surpassed any lesson I could have foreseen. Several students volunteered to read the passage aloud and when they had finished I invited comments. When none followed, I assumed the students were still grappling with the intricacies of Shakespearean rhetoric. Then, when they did voice their reactions it became clear they not only “got” the metaphors but saw in them the desperation of their own lives, the “petty pace” of incarceration, the sameness of their tomorrows. As students spoke, others nodded or assented verbally, so that a sort of felt consensus pervaded the room. I was touched, if saddened at their intimate connection to these words crafted four centuries ago, how the poetry spoke to them and for them. It struck me at the same time how different my life was from any of theirs. Yet, through the poetry we were sharing a language that spoke to us all. And through their response to these words they too were communicating their lives to one another and to me. In that moment, I never felt more “in prison” and yet felt that we had transcended the bounds of this environment through the medium of metaphor. It was this–the students’ vulnerable and honest response to the poetry–that prompted my own words. I wanted to acknowledge and if possible honor their language and their lives.

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Alan Devenish currently teaches in the Bard Prison Initiative and has taught literature and human rights for the Marymount Manhattan Prison College Program. 

Forced Out by Juan Meza

Forced Out

Forced out
Out of my land
Out of my people
Out of my friends.
Of the constitution
Of my songs
Of my hair
My sweat
My family
My Salmon
Language
Name


Juan Meza is a 39-year-old poet, Shakespearean actor, and a member of Artistic Ensemble, an abstract movement company. To Juan, community represents hope for a life that matters. He would like an experienced poet and an experienced stage performer as mentors.

Sin of Kingdoms

by Emile DeWeaver

There’s a golf course.
Man in white shorts wiggles
bum and measures his iron
against the task. Swings. Club
and dimpled ball clunk. The sound is like
a single knock on a door, the back door

by the window that frames
the chopping log. He flashes
a smile at his companion, a tan
woman with a tucked-in shirt, crisp

as a knight’s tabard. He struts
toward their cart. Short grass
crunches beneath his shoes. Little, brown boy slips
man’s club into bag on cart,
cocks ear, and grabs shorter
club from woman’s bag.

Lady holds out hand as if awaiting
the hilt of Excalibur. She tees up,
chops ball into nearby pond, and
ducks scatter themselves above the maple trees.

Man kicks one foot forward and tips
his head, laughing. Brown boy hurries to stand
beside her when she crooks
finger and makes stabbing
gesture toward her thigh.
She’s talking.
Her head jitters
like a rodent eating bread, chewing
for all she’s worth
before the kitchen light flicks

on. Boy looks at her white
shoes. She points, and he rushes
to the pond. When he reaches the bank,
he plows into the water,
disappears beneath the surface. Pond
goes glassy. Ducks clear round sky. Boy pops

up near bank and runs ball back
to woman. She chops ball again.

Same pond. Man does not laugh.
Woman stabs

at her thigh again. Boy
dashes to hear side, but she says
nothing. They stand there. Stand there.
And stand there. She lifts her club
and staves in the boy’s skill.
One swing. One thunk,

like a fastball in a catcher’s mitt.
Man takes a call. Woman
shades her face with hand,
surveys kingdom. Another cart

pulls onto scene, two men
with a little, brown boy.
The men wear raincoats and rubber boots.
They retrieve the old boy, leave the new

one, and drive away. Grass snapping
beneath the wheels is louder
than the electric engine. Woman begins
to sob. She grabs brown boy and crushes him
to her khaki pants. Man gets off phone.
Grass falls silent.


Emile DeWeaver is a 2015 Pushcart nominee with creative work in a dozen publications, including The Lascaux Review, Frigg, Punchnel’s, and The Rumpus. You can find his work on his website and by visiting his monthly column “Good Behavior” at Easy Street.

He is a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

The Philiad

by Eel C. Jesus

 

Part I

O How Phillip wrenches out his heart as
his beloved betrayed thee; she went off
and married another at thirty-three.
A promise once set in stone is now washed
away by tears wrought with anguish and groans.

April – March – June – the seasons crawl by and
he’s locked deep inside the darkest parts
of his soul; living on stale air and weeks
old sweat while his beloved wrestles and
caresses her lover in his old bed.

His thoughts, they cripple every ounce, every
shred of dignity that he possesses. So
now, he’s cemented THIS in his head:
get a gun, shoot both of them, dead. Perhaps,
just him. He’s lost; no reason to live.

Now, Phillip, twisted and seriously
committed, rolls himself off of deaths’ bed;
goes down to the gun store and buys – a chrome
forty-five, pearl inlaid handle, with
an extension clip, plus some hollow tips.

Life is now his to take – his to give. So,
Phillip contemplates until he is fed,
then sleeps restless – quietly with the sweet
smell of sulfur and lead; whispering, “Til
death do us part my lovely, lovely heart.”

To start, he writes his Will along with a
note chronicling the hurt that he feels.
Finished, he wraps his lips around the bitch,
strains to pull the trigger – realizes –
that cowards are doomed to watch their wishes.

Again, Phillip decides, he’ll sit and
write a letter, a confession, or to
ask, why? All of which, he softly addressed:
Dear My Beloved – followed with each and
every word he’s ever left unsaid.

 

Part II

Satisfied with what he writes, Phillip sends
his letter out that night. Three days later,
A husband receives – an envelope with
no return address – just bold print that reads:
TO: MY BELOVED – “Wait, is this, for me?”

With pains, the husband reads a detailed list
of how someone else confesses to love
HIS one and only, HIS most cherished. Oh,
what a wicked game his love plays, and HIM,
a doting, faithless pawn, who shares her shame.

Twelve hours pass, twelve, on a Wednesday and
a wife is not yet home, neither is she
answering her phone. Her husband’s in
the kitchen; cold soup on the table – warmth –
gone since four. Yells, “O’ where is that damn whore!”

A quarter after ten. The wife walks in,
she sees her husband, seething, standing in –
the kitchen with knife in hand, pleading, “O’
my love, where have you been? Please, don’t say
work. I’ve been there – you – haven’t been in.”

The wife, too tired to fight, tries to walk
away, but her husband stands in her face.
“I want answers,” he says. She pushes him;
she wants space. Slighted, he grabs her, holds her
tight, but the knife is pointed out and it –

Slides nicely between her ribs which ends her
life, but he still stabs her: three more times. When
he realizes what he’s done, he
stumbles, fumbles, scrambles, for his gun. “Oh,
my wife,” he signs with regret, and then … Death.

 

Part III

Poor ole Phillip – whom – hasn’t left his house;
He’s a recluse – life is doubt. Maybe,
one day, he’ll find purpose, but right now,
nothing is within sight; his life’s a
constant struggle, yet it is his to fight.

He’s sick of the silence and turns on
the TV – Breaking News: Husband and Wife
Both Dead, Murder-Suicide. Phillips’ heart
stops beating in his chest. HIS beloved –
dead – along with her maybes; his, what ifs.

Now, it’s said that Phillip throws a note
onto the floor – Squeezes – and just as the
Light exits his head, he remembers that,
yes, he’d left one thing, just one, unsaid.
And that, was reason enough to have lived.


Eel C. Jesus lives and writes in Northern Calfornia.

2016

by Rahsaan Thomas

I-Phones
selfies
Mass Murder

Bugattis
Trump Towers
Genocide

Rwanda
white men
Intergenerational trauma

U.S.A.
His-Lam
Drones
Terrorist

American Indians
German-Jews
African American
Japanese
Women
Homosexuals
Civil War

Black juveniles
Black women
Black men
Buffalos
extinction


Rahsaan Thomas grew up in New York City, but he writes from a cell in California. He’s a staff writer for San Quentin News and the co-author of Uncaged Stories. He has also been published in The Marshall Project, Missouri Review’s Literature on Lockdown, Life of the Law, The Beat Within, & Brothers in Pen’s 2014 & 2015 anthologies.

At age 45, he became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

Prison Renaissance Featured Artist – Emile DeWeaver

Spring 2016

Sons of Sisyphus

Have you seen Spartans train their youth away:
oak trees beneath a ridge, 200 boys
broken into 20 files, 20 pound
shields that have never touched ground, 5 pound helms
packed with wild grass to fit growing skulls. “Spaaaar-

taaaans! Choose a tree.” They move, little gods made
from levers and chains: shout, turn brace shields, one
against the back of the next and next
then lead shield meets the bark. “Now push them down!”
Teeth fuse, chains tighten
driving force against oaks firm as
citadels; feet

slip, effort spills through the sandal
soles marching furrows
in earth that deepen into knee-high
trenches
muddy from sweat and urine – “Be born!”
– pushing and pushing
‘til tree trunks smolder from hate-
filled-boy glares, pushing
‘til the links snap

drop like skin-sacks – “Stand!”
– pushing until sun
rolls, like Nazarene’s tomb door
into dusk. Dying
child – one in five die – thinks about

his shield touching ground
drags it to rest on his chest.
Breath. Somber slaves bury the slain, still-births
in the wheat fields. The living, beaten, shamble
to barracks where fathers dab watered
honey on lips exhausted. Wash, oil
sons’ limbs, polish their shields, sharpen their spears.

“Sons. We hear jackals barking.” Little
gods stir. Wind in common groans as they rise,
grey-skinned and ghastly. Shields, spears, helms, “File out!”
The night breaks Stygian surf around them.
They stride for the wheat
fields; they’ll chase Hades’ hounds
from brothers’ graves while
oaks beneath the ridgeline await
the tomb door’s rolling

*

Promethean Cycle

Open eyes, get out of bed.
Put a toothbrush in.

Eat raspberries for breakfast.
Lick ass and chew shit for work.

Drive home last.
Vomit. Drink.

Gargle mouthwash next morning.
Tylenols before breakfast.

Call in sick, eat the loss.
Park by my junior high school.

Write poems about love poems.
School security approaches.

I can smell danger, go home.
Smoke weed on plastic-covered couch. Weep.

Skip breakfast, eat nothing in the A.M.
Saline drops in the parking lot at work.

Connie from the second floor walks by my car
window. Shakes her head at my Visine.

Key her Audi.
Need to piss bad.

Google scalpels and
black holes for lunch.

Speed home full of megabytes.
Drunk, high, taking that piss.

After 5pm, fuck rabbits. Or fuck like them,
whichever presents itself most advantageously.

Home by 12.
Rinse midnight from mouth.

Jam guitar and scream.
Cops thump thump my door:

noise complaint. Put myself
to sleep. Take to alarm’s

Onkh, onkh, onkh. I smell scalpels
in a bag beneath bathroom sink.

*

Desdemona of Troy

I’m so mad at you I
face Medusa’s gaze,
turn that bitch to volcanic glass.
Floor cracks beneath my weight;
fractures ride the lightning across her face.

I’m so mad at you I
leak magma from tear ducts.
Molten granite, brighter than
love’s ire, carving
channels down my cheeks.

I’m so angry with you I
can’t walk or get
up or lie down. Soul so smoking
the Arctic Sea can’t quench it
without shattering me.

Mad because while I
quake, earth sleeps. My anger

has red roots
like a nigger slave
bleeding lava down a whipping post.

I’m so mad at you
I can fly, throat-in-noose fly,
volcanic plume high.

When I settle, I’m ashes.
Fumes and burning plastic.

*

Helen of Sidewalk

I do remember our song.
It was about pay-per-view
in hotel rooms and a plumber
who became Porn King. We listened
while you made a game
out of hopping cracks
in the pavement. You knew yourself.
You were a ballerina who never
had to pause to watch
her toes, and I sailed
far to move like that.


Emile DeWeaver is a 2015 Pushcart nominee with creative work in a dozen publications, including The Lascaux Review, Frigg, Punchnel’s, and The Rumpus. You can find his work on his website and by visiting his monthly column “Good Behavior” at Easy Street.

He is a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.