Elegy for Prison

Without fail, at least one
student replies but what will we do
with all the murderers & the answer hasn’t changed
since I first felt cuffs, read Etheridge
or Dwayne, heard iron doors too heavy to dent
with any human pair of hands thud shut. We cannot speak
as if the killers are not already among us mowing
the lawn, getting promotions, trying on
their fresh winter coats. As if my older brother were perpetual
-ly dressed for the role of corner store stickup boy,
eyes preordained for the work of making out unmarked
cop cars from a distance, calm as Jimmy Carter
while a handgun rests below the pitch
navy Avirex jeans mama got him to celebrate
high honor roll, A’s across the board, even
in Environmental Science, where he struggled
early on. I get the argument. Close the jails & there
he goes again, classic Shaun, up at 7AM
mapping out ever more intricate ways
to rob bodegas. Shaun with the shotgun, Shaun with the bullet
-proof skin, Shaun with the stains
on his blood. No one comes
out & says he was born with them.
No one calls him a thug
or an emptiness, nothing so gauche
as all that, most of those assembled
in the lecture hall opt instead
for terms like practical or natural
selection say let’s be realistic
here it’s really a matter
of public order I mean we have to
keep them all somewhere right
if someone killed my mother
money wouldn’t help at all
I would want to take
away the one thing
they can’t ever take
back and that’s time


Ode to Long Johns

I remember thinking these are like skin for my skin
& a truer thing to call black to boot
as my first pair were blacker even
than my nascent curls, which turned
brown whenever they would wrestle
the light. My father called you thermals,
which always brought to mind
radioactive weapons of one kind
or another, two nuclear physicists
using casual shorthand over coffee.
For ten years, under thrift store denim
& corduroys rubbed raw
by Ms. Blint’s blue carpet,
I rock your soft scales
with minimal fuss, only twice or so
grumbling to Pop about how
you make me appear,
if not heavier per se then just,
well, stuck in all of my clothes that this
is on the whole untenable
for a boy my age no small
tragedy given these were formative
years you see critical even
as it pertained to the glowing,
affirmative sense of my body
I would need for success
in the general public
situation. Pop’s concern
remained with the cold,
and I remained a boy
cocooned, fed up, hungry
for better methods of breaking
winter’s callous rule; anything
other than having to leave
the oven door open, setting
my mother’s best four black pots
to boil at once, our entire family
gathered as if shrapnel in the living
room, so close our bodies grew almost
indeterminate there, huddled like stars
under blankets to thaw