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Joseph Palmer’s Journal

June 22, 2011

by Diane Kendig

It’s only a photocopy, so maybe
these liney shadows have been cast up
from the reverse side,
when the machine lit on them
one hundred sixty-five years later,
but I believe that Palmer,
on his way to prison, couldn’t imagine
using so much paper,

and after months recounting
his defense to the judge
(as long as his face were no uglier
than his horse’s, he’d keep his beard)
and his prison privations,
teaching him what inmates mean
by hard time versus flat time,

he looked at the book,
his careful farmer accounts
of plantings and harvestings,
how much he could say then
with catalogues, now interwoven
with the relation of his imprisonment,
appearing not chronologically
but wherever there was space,

and right here he erased
to continue the text, as critics call
the drafting, x-ing, and rewording,
the sudden appearance of syntax
which he had never employed
to convey the natural order of his life
before sentencing.

Author’s note: Joseph Palmer, a self-educated farmer, was imprisoned for over a year in 1830, much of that time in solitary confinement without sufficient food, for refusing to shave his beard.


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Diane Kendig’s recent chapbook is The Places We Find Ourselves. Her prose and poetry may be found in J Journal, Minnesota Review, Wordgathering, and Seventh Quarry, among others. A recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships in Poetry and a Fulbright lectureship in translation, Diane currently lives “out of place” near Boston. She spent four months in medium security spread across 18 years.

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  1. Barbara LaMorticella
    June 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    What a story, so well- told. I also enjoyed listening to your strong voice reading it.

  2. Roberta Burnett
    June 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Nice tight poem. Thanks.

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