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August 31, 2011 Comments off

by William Aarnes

qualcuno c’è morto contento
—Cesare Pavese, “Poggio Reale”

Some of the convicts
must die content,

at least somewhat satisfied
their life sentences

fit their crimes, at least
somewhat comforted

by prison routine. Some books
improve with rereading,

sometimes estranged children
visit with their toddlers,

some friendships develop
between those who enjoy

catching each other cheating
at cards, some chaplains

make sense of their faith
by admitting to doubts,

and some loners grow gregarious
explaining to their cellmates

the problems posed by life.


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William Aarnes teaches at Furman University and lives in Clemson, South Carolina. His poems have appeared in such magazines as Poetry, FIELD, Seneca Review, and Anti-. Recent poems have appeared in Poetry Quarterly and Stirring.

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Two collages and a letter from an inmate

August 30, 2011 17 comments

by Jennifer Myers

 

The Affliction by Jennifer Myers
The Affliction (click image to enlarge)

 

Stillness in Chaos by Jennifer Myers
Stillness in Chaos (click image to enlarge)

 

Inside/Outside Prisons: A Day in a Life at a Prison Camp

August 20, 2006
FPC Alderson

Dear Ian,

Sometimes the gap between the realities inside prison is huge. Today I worked out. I felt better after I got off of the elliptical. Last night the four o-clock count had been late by an hour. We knew something was going on…somewhere. This morning we found out one of the inmates had attacked another woman and she had to be taken to the hospital. The inmate had put a lock in her sox and beat the woman’s face with it. Scary. Later today Leah and I made popcorn balls for the birthday “party” we’re having for one of the inmates. What a 24-hours. Which way do I look… which way do I turn? Chaos inside, chaos outside… go to work, get counted, workout, read — relax (if you can). I have to admit some days the prison looks stunning, situated where we live in the basin of a mountain. The animals remind me of a Walt Disney movie. The squirrels walk back and forth across the sidewalk and eat Jolly Rancher’s out of our hands — then, there are these crazy things that happen. No matter how may times I’m seduced into believing I’m not in prison, immediately I’m shaken back. I remember I’m a prisoner every time we have Standing Count. When I reach into my locker for the ID badge I have to wear — can’t go out the door without it. Oh…a day in the life of a federal prison camp. I feel sobered, my mind tough. I’m tired of wishing, wanting, and dreaming — not action. Tired of my desire to win… sick of ambition and jealousy. I wish I just wanted to give to the world. But actually, what a part of me really wants when I get out of prison is to be taken care of, by a yuppie husband in a nice home by the sea. Yet, I know I’d be bored with this life within a year. I don’t have energy left over at the end of my prison day to resist my ego’s demons. I guess I have no choice but to surrender and let go of the inner torment… and breath. Is this the gift I’ve been given — an unlocked heart? I’m beginning to think so. Prison takes away, but does it also give? I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is after the chaos of prison I don’t want “complicated”. But I can’t escape myself, and I feel complicated. Although I’m physically locked-up, I’m still racked with painful self-judgment, and pain from other’s judging me. Every day when I walk the compound I feel the uncomfortable feelings I can’t escape. I hate to admit this, but it’s easier to cover up the feelings I don’t want to face on the outside. There I can choose my distraction; iced-mocha coffee from Starbucks, a glass of wine, soft music, incense, fluffy pillows and nice sheets. I’m not saying I want to be in prison — I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to spend even one day locked-up. In prison I’m confronted with myself like I’ve never been before. Something needs to change, but inside… I’m tired of living with “fear.” During the past year I’ve been incarcerated I’ve had moments of glorious inspiration. The rest of the time I’m mentally hanging by a thread. I want to run… I want to escape myself… I want to clone myself and live six different lives at once; find my life-partner, have children and a business, live in another country, take a backpack and walk the Santiago, go to India, find a guru and travel to Morocco, live in a house by the sea, live a yuppie life, a bohemian life, be an intellect, and then throw it all away and come home at night to my white picket fence house with a Mercedes 500 in the drive, and a husband with a stable job. I don’t know how the different parts that live inside myself will ever come together.

What the hell is going on?
It’s manic in here.

I love you.
Jen


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Jennifer Myers received her BFA in modern dance from the Ohio State University in 1991 and spent the next seven years of her life performing and choreographing in Chicago. “It was during this time,” she says, “when, romanticizing the dark side — and the wrong kind of men — I placed my love and trust in a marijuana dealer: Within a year, I was driving the drug cross-country myself. In 2003 I was charged with marijuana conspiracy, and in 2006 sentenced to three years in Federal Prison Camp. In prison my love of writing and art became a vehicle for the pain and isolation I experienced.” Upon her release, she founded LAMYERS, a company that prepares people for the experience of federal prison, and she is finishing up a memoir, Trafficking the Good Life. Her writing received an honorable mention in the 2008 PEN prison-writing competition and has appeared in the SUNY Press anthology Razor Wire Women.

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To Save the Body and the Soul From Death, Damnation

August 26, 2011 3 comments

by Louisa Howerow

justification for force feeding suffragettes, Holloway Gaol

I can’t lean far enough away
to escape the wardens,
their eager footsteps,
outstretched hands.
These women press me
to the bed, bruise down
my flailing limbs and head.
I clench my eyes against
the doctor who steals in,
against his fingers pulling
at my lips, the metal rod
he forces through
to find the childhood gaps
between my teeth. A twist
cuts gums, cleaves mouth,
ensures a tube’s relentless
push toward my breast.

Nothing here is of me:
not the medicinal gruel,
not the vomit, not the sobbing…


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Louisa Howerow’s most recent poetry appeared in FreeFall, The Nashwaak Review and Room. This poem is part of a manuscript that gives voice to the rank and file members of the British suffragette movement. Two of the poems in this collection appeared in The New Quarterly, guest edited by Diane Schoemperlen. Another poem in a slightly altered version was published in Room.

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Balloon Boy, Later

August 25, 2011 Comments off

by Courtney Druz

What I was smelling doesn’t match the rest—
dust, old cardboard, sawn wood, insulation foam.
Gray light rose from the edge of the trap door
but I saw only high blue, ice-cream smooth
and tongue-tingeing, flying.

I knew I was in a box.
But I was gone too, riding the big silver cloud
away from their combs and cameras,
wind prickling, coasting over sky like fresh snow
under my inflatable sled. And everything down there
was Legos, lame toys, little ant cars creeping.

I remember Dad yelling not to touch the balloon;
I’ve seen the video. And my secret pulse then,
knowing what would happen, the Mylar frosted in light
and soaring. I’m not sure why I hid.
I know what people say, but after so many years
it’s all a jumble. What is certain:

Finding the portal to the unknown crystal place
and sailing off, hoisting my strength
against a gelid, consequential world
and being discovered in an attic,
dragged back down, grounded.


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Courtney Druz (website) has worked as a graphic designer, an architect, and, for the last seven years, as an at-home poet-mom. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including Euphony, Prick of the Spindle, The Other Journal, specs, and Zeek.

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Penance

August 24, 2011 Comments off

by Kristen Solecki

Penance by Kristen Solecki
Click on image to view a larger version.

 

Kristen Solecki is a freelance artist based in the Philadelphia area. She believes in the beauty and uniqueness of art that is made by hand. For more about her, please visit her website.

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At The Door of No Return

August 23, 2011 Comments off

by Elizabeth Bodien

Elmina Slave Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana

In the white of my skin, I come to your castle,
you who sweltered in the dark of its dungeon,
you who were plucked from sugar cane fields,
sold away from all that is home.

Your castle still stands, white-washed and gleaming,
a dazzle beside the deep, blood-blue sea.
Massive walls, no windows, ghosts stink underneath
paint that hides vomit, excrement, brandings.

Here is the yard you were dragged through for show.
He stood up by the church to pick out his favorites.
You could not see him. You could not look skyward.
You stumbled, blinded, unused to the bright.

In the night, you could feel him close as he crushed you,
the weight of his belly, sea-stench of his beard,
before you were pushed through door-slit to death ship,
chained as chattel for the new world.


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Elizabeth Bodien (website) lives near Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. Her poetry appears in The Fourth River, Watershed, The Litchfield Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Mad Poets Review, and Cimarron Review, among other publications, and her chapbooks include the award-winning Plumb Lines (Plan B Press 2008), Rough Terrain: Notes of an Undutiful Daughter (FootHills Publishing 2010), and Endpapers (Finishing Line Press 2011).

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A Murder of Crows

August 22, 2011 1 comment

by Emily Severance

Jim feels
feathers sprout
as the Old Crow takes hold.
while others take flight
in buicks and caddies
he’ll fly through
the storm—
super crow

whip up feather winds
smash store windows
caw caws calling up
a screech of party lights:
the whirr whirling
of red, blue and white
America.

wings pinned
in back seat
head high above
N.O. streets.

in central lockup
he still struts his stuff
but as time pecks by
his feathers fall

levees break,
raven black waters rise
sheriff and deputies
flock together and fly

Jim dreams a bobbing
boat in a bourbon bath

tipsy tipsy, top over down
guileless, gill-less,
submersed and drowned.


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Emily Severance teaches elementary special education in New Mexico. She has a BA from The Residential College at The University of Michigan and an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She wrote this poem after reading the ACLU report on the treatment of prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) during Hurricane Katrina.

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My Father’s Grief

August 19, 2011 4 comments

by Susan Facknitz

He wears it like wires,
chicken wire of the rusted coops
that sit outside the house
in crazed angles of neglect,
rat wire’s tiny squares
all over the empty flight cages
inside the house, trip wires
to the mines he cleared
from the roads of Korea
in the long retreat from Cho San.
They hold him up,
not marionette like,
hands above him
in smooth control. More like
yard signs or whirligigs.
things punched into the ground
that give when the wind whips
too fiercely or the earth softens
with rain. He plunks
his bandy legs across whatever ground
he has to each day forgetting
as he goes, synapses starved
and current gone bad,
he wakes the night away
in cold electric light.


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Susan Facknitz has had poems in Poetry East, Mississippi Review and Southwords (Ireland), in addition to her previous appearance in qarrtsiluni (“Flotsam,” in the Water issue).

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So Like a Cell

August 18, 2011 Comments off

by Susan Weaver

Two figures pass each other: one
in jeans and hooded retreat,
the other hunched against the world,
left hand pocketed, his right
holding a cigarette, lost
in the beat of his Walkman.
Late afternoon shadows
consume the sidewalk, creep up
a windowless brick wall.
This city street, air squeezed out,
admits no sky, no horizon.
So like a cell, it brings to mind

a Kentucky detention center. Spirals
of steel-blue razor wire, the airless
glass vestibule, a heavy door’s
irrevocable click, the guard
prompting us to empty our pockets.
In sky-colored robe my sister’s son
graduates with the highest score,
earning a scholarship to nowhere.
Afterward, raising a clenched fist
to his nose and breathing deeply,
“Whenever I get outside,” he says,
“I grab me a handful of grass.”


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A journalist, poet and arts-educator, Susan Weaver also answered hotline calls and counseled shelter residents part-time for 12 years at an agency for victims of domestic abuse. Nine years ago, her family suffered its own domestic violence. Weaver’s poems drawing on those experiences have appeared in literary journals (Women’s Way, Main Street Rag, and Survivor) and the sociological journal Violence Against Women. She lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with her husband Joseph C. Skrapits, a painter and writer.

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A Blizzard for Grandma

August 17, 2011 3 comments

by Lynnel Jones

I watch your snow-white
camouflage, the mechanized rise
and fall of your breath,

a skinny tube up your nose,
another pegged to your middle,
the third draining

a catch of amazing topaz.
I remember you wanting to die
in Pool, in your house,

just yourself and your stuff, intact.
I imagine for you real
snow, a killing

dose, like the one in ’40 —
surprising scores of hunters,
dead quickly

from cold and lack of care.


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Lynnel Jones’s poetry is steeped in the joys and struggles of Minnesota’s immigrant mining community and the lives of the people of rural southern Virginia and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. A people-watcher since childhood, above all she aspires to write poems accessible to the ordinary folks she writes about — and to do that with sensitivity, originality and gratitude.

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