(Mississippi State Penitentiary)


Scatters of little gray birds flutter back and forth

across the high barbed fence,

and after a rainy month the bare Delta prison yard

is splotched with green.


I crane my neck to see if the men

in their green and white striped pants

are crossing the macadam from the ward.

Not yet. Not yet to come to this large gray room


and read each other stories of their lives.

I do not know these men beyond our hours.

I know they do not have a.c.,

even in the Mississippi summer,


and the one fan, an old-style box, does little,

so that, when they write on the ward,

their sweat pools on the page.

I know they have grandmas,


because they tell about grandmas.

One of them writes about

killing a high-placed Klansman.

Some write copiously. Others, in fragments.


Smooth moves with the ladies,

ominous dreams, near-death accidents,

longings for their children. Lockdowns.

Strip-searches, being shunted in trucks


in cages from place to place.

But no matter what they’ve done,

no matter how beaten down they look

sometimes when they arrive,


as the hours pass, laughter comes.

Halting or in a rush, words come.

They listen to each other, bear each other up.

As a guy in Big Mike’s story says, You feel me?