"What the Hell Did You Write in Your Last Letter to Make Them Think You're an Inmate?", "Do I Stay?", "What Personal Prisons Have You Built?"
“What the Hell Did You Write in Your Last
Letter to Make Them Think You’re an Inmate?”
[question asked by Savannah Dudley]
I have been where you are,
staring through a void in front of me,
unable to speak or comprehend what curse
took a lien on five years of my life.
Inmate’s not a label; a brand—it never leaves.
Cons, freed, play a bigger con
to think we’ve been redeemed, forgiven.
I said as much, then joked
about the Circuit Judge who damned you,
as mine did me those years ago.
Maybe my jests weren’t humorous.
One formed a bawdy limerick
about His Honor’s wife &
the bad men she’s stared down
in her courtroom with lights dimmed,
sheets & blankets folded toward the center.
“Do I Stay?”
[question asked by Mela Blust]
we tether to a place—
this stump, rock,
this damp basement,
Hurt arrives with rubber bullets
to force us elsewhere—
bow & accept
both pain & blame.
Is this where we concede
we’ve stood too long
on a map’s dot that could be dust?
We fight to keep ourselves
waiting for the next
argument or indiscretion
between bucks with antlers locked,
dancing in circles,
neither a winner nor separation
until help arrives.
“What Personal Prisons Have You Built?”
Sometimes it’s a lonely cell you live in.
Cushioned orchid carpets & flower-
patterned shower curtains—home, also,
tethers. What good is freedom
for one unwilling to leave?
Why go anywhere when here feels safest?
The TV rises above its stand like concertina wire.
Shoes huddled by the door prevent escape as if locks
or keys to locks one must acquire to exit.
I hesitate as though a Circuit Judge
commuted my sentence, set me loose;
I advised the warden not to take his call.
Ace Boggess is author of six books of poetry, most recently Escape Envy (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021). His writing has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, Harvard Review, and other journals. An ex-con, he lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where he writes and tries to stay out of trouble.