28 November, 2016

A Different Kind of Love Poem

The Animals the Animals Loved

Ask Frenchie about Rootin' Rudy,
the potbellied pig allowed to sleep in the biker's bed many nights,
before he shot and stomped a man to death,
and Frenchie will dig out the photos
of his black porcine pal
kissing him, proper as a beldam.
His eyes will twinkle.

Or Mustache Jerry, so taciturn,
who murdered a man outside a bar
and needs no invitation to share with you
a story about Boots, who'd pull a dead
truck as well as he could hump
a plow along a rut
but was stubborn as the day is long.
Evenings, Jerry brought apples in a basket
and they'd watch the sun descend on
the hills while the man liquored up
and the mule chowed down.

Or broad-as-a-barn James, with
his murderous leer and short fuse,
easily slighted and, on the prison yard, best steered
clear of: he had a cat, an enormous tabby — Tut —
that believed itself a dog. They went
for walks together, and James would feed Tut
flank steak when he grilled, out back.
The cat was his friend, and James
wept babylike when he died after
a fight (a coyote, the culprit), but not
after sticking four holes in Earl McCann,
The fucker, he had it comin'.

Hard men. Hard men all,
and beastly.

* * * * *

Does a poem need a disclaimer? Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental ought to cover it, if so. But you do hear some stories from questionable individuals (nearly the only kind, in prison) if you do enough time, and the three I cannibalized for "The Animals the Animals Loved" remain largely intact, right down to the incriminating facts.

31 October, 2016

Halloween in the Hoosegow III: Fresh Blood

Rain claws my window as October's final light, shocking crimson, bleeds away. I am too intent on the task at hand to be distracted by Nature's fit, and barely notice when a crash of thunder tears the air outside. Tonight's operation is urgent and nearing its tantalizing end.

Chunks of once-living tissue are piled in the bowl at my elbow. I work my instrument — quick, deft incisions — through the green flesh on my workspace, transferring each sliver to the vessel containing the others, pieces destined to soon be hungrily devoured. My hands are slicked in their briny fluid. The scent is ripe and thick in the close atmosphere of the cell. Each excision makes me salivate a little more.

I turn, retrieving a second pouch, tearing it open and letting its contents, like small discolored eyeballs, roll onto my worktop, then resume cutting olives.

For years, the monstrous, unholy feast of Halloween night has been a rite I observed alone. Certain circumstances separated me from my longtime cohort, Zach, but the ritual's draw was more powerful than solitude, and I pressed on, constructing my cyclopean heaps of nachos — impossible for any mortal man to altogether consume — for myself. It was not always easy. The pendulous burden of so much refried beans, cheese, shredded chicken, picante sauce, olive slices, and ranch dressing laid to rest on a wide plot of tortilla chips was often nigh on too much for my body and soul to bear. Some nights I pushed away from the piles of it, gasping, fingers smeared with evidence of my atrocious hunger, and felt a sulfurous flare from the Abyss belch out of my throat, demonic and fulminant, then resumed my ravenous feasting.

Tonight, though — tonight will be different. Mine will not be the only constitution tested by this ritual of gross overconsumption.

My youthful initiate is named Brett. He came to me wearing innocence on his face, all wholesomeness, but I saw within him an emptiness, a kinship. Beneath Brett's aura of good health and respectability, a voracious beast-man, kept under psychic lock and key, howled and grasped for hot, melty, fatty cheese food product over corn chips. He'd read foul texts on my impious All Hallows Eve exploits. His curiosity about them was not idle.

In the weeks leading to tonight, Brett became my willing acolyte, and under my tutelage subjected himself to the fell rituals: Hersheys bars with Hellraiser, jelly beans with The Shining, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Brett is as prepared as any man could be. I have shown him the ways. Tonight he will prove himself.

Lightning shatters the gloom as a knock — a barely-there rapping — comes at the steel door. The look in exposes his fear at what he will see. I tell him he will have to stanch that timidity, standing aside so his widening eyes can apprehend this year's creation splayed across the surface where I've been toiling.

A profane word escapes his lips, further language beyond reach. Before such an abomination as I have made, its unspeakable dimensions, its colors beyond description, all utterances are meaningless. This way, dear reader, lies madness.

Brett hands me what he's brought: an icy Pepsi. I crack it open and the insanity begins.

27 October, 2016


In days of yore, stout scrubwomen squatting by the water gossiped and kvetched to quell the tedium of pounding their husbands' smallclothes against a rock for hours. Later, nuclear-age housewives, in Benzedrine daydreams of lives less laborious, mooned over the newest DeLuxeCo Auto-Matic Clothes-Washing Machine in their Sears Roebuck catalogs. And today, if the TV commercials are any indication, people still aren't content with the ease of washing their laundry, because Samsung has upgraded its machines with a small port in front, so you can add clothing items to loads without the agonizing burden of opening a regular-sized washer door!

The future is here, people. I, for one, am uneasy.

My upbringing left me leery of certain levels of convenience. Blame the semi-crunchy environment my parents raised me in, which instilled an appreciation for the handmade, the homegrown, the slow-cooked. To wit: until age eight, I had no idea what Ho Hos were (and when I found out, their oily sweetness made me spit). One takeaway from my youth can therefore be summed up as “good stuff is worth waiting for.” The converse was implicit: what's readily had is better left alone.

Every morning, cell doors in Crossroads’ honor dorm open when the 5 AM custody count clears. Like a horse charging from the gate, I race the other early risers to the laundry closet downstairs, where I scrub and rinse yesterday’s wearables in my green Rubbermaid wash basin before breakfast. Others take less time. My bar is just higher. Can I drink the rinse water yet? If not, I rinse again, repeating until the answer’s yes. It's a chore that takes me twenty minutes, on average.

A chore — the word connotes drudgery, unpleasant obligation, routine. I used to like doing laundry. There's nothing quite as reliably comforting as the smell, texture, and temperature of a fresh load pulled from the dryer.

Modern laundry-washing is nothing. You drop clothes into a machine, you wait, you transfer the clothes into another machine, you wait again, you retrieve the clothes, you fold or hang them as necessary. It’s easy as pie — easier, in fact, since pie involves an iota of finesse. Any imbecile can do a load of whites. “Oh,” you cry, “but the wait is so annoying!”

Even when you do actually need to stay in the vicinity while your clothes tumble, as in laundromats where sketchy characters might filch unattended garments, a wait is only a wait when you’re not creative enough to otherwise occupy yourself. The way things are now, I’d be moved near to tears by the freedom to surf the web, sit people-watching, or play a Donkey Kong arcade game while a machine saved me hours of effort. Who in their right minds complain about such First World privilege?

Most here can’t bear the thought of doing laundry by hand when the institutional laundry service will take their bags of dirties and, a couple of days later, bring them back somewhat less dirty. They don’t care that everything comes back as crumpled as blow-in insulation. The service is free of charge and hassle… except when laundry workers rip bags open to thieve any less-than-yellow T-shirts.

There's a third option for getting your clothes clean in prison: using a Maytag. Some convicts hawk their artwork, some sell sex, some run gambling operations, some deal drugs. There are as many ways of making money in the joint as there are types of people. Maytaggin’ — hiring out your services as a human washing machine — hasn’t always been known by the same name, but it's as old as penitentiaries themselves.

In my wing lives the Laundry Gnome, a fuzzy little guy with glasses and graying red hair that nearly matches his raw skin. He looks like, before his incarceration, he might’ve smoked an itty-bitty corncob pipe. Now he smokes what he earns from scrubbing stains and body soil out of other prisoners’ workout gear and underthings. His knobby knuckles may always be cracked and angry, but he never wants for tobacco. I admire his dedication, if not the addiction driving it.

The Laundry Gnome scrubs his fingers to shreds because his customers want what you, dear reader, have: the luxury of dropping off a dirty load and picking it up wearable, no agitation necessary. He doesn't charge much. I could probably afford to hire him. The way I do it now, laundry’s become a grind, leeching time that'd be enriching if only I spent it with my nose in a good book. (I have nowhere near the number of leisure-reading hours I’d prefer.) But I couldn't stand myself if I paid to save a trifling fraction of an hour per day, solely in order to be lazy. Scrubbing in suds may dry my hands something fierce, sometimes, but it keeps my conscience and my socks clean.