the prison years: warmer now (michigan winter 2016)
Leigh Sugar & Justin Monson
[ inmate in cuffs/inmate in curls/inmate born
into a small world/ ]
young poet scrapes up ghosts
lunchtime guys look up!
into hollow atmosphere. open-mouthed, tongue
in the wind, catching intermittent
from a sky the color
dirtywater. that could be a lie (not likely) –
youhearme? fragmented shit-talkin’
penguin stances with the baggy eyes out
the buttoned collars. youhearme?
mia does not eat on mondays, wednesdays, and saturdays.
she is not trying to become smaller but says
her body needs a break. from what
she does not specify.
everybody’s lookin’ for someone
[ inmate goes to prom with neighbor/inmate
tweets about it later/ ]
‘we want you
to see adele at the palace
in september!’ it’s january, don’t they know
how much two seasons could explode or expose
a singular life into lapses
of osmosis, of blueandbeige fervor?
always the surveyed
and the surveyor is outside
inside who is the you who was here
before the inside you put a value
and then tried to sell you
back to yourself? a moment
breathes too heavily now.
silent ambience: radio was on a timer
[ inmate bleeds from cut from shave/
inmate in time out (you’ve misbehaved)/ ]
view from window
frozen dirt under the orange
lights, an impending trend (the pundits say). a bit of white –
no, not the population –
the ground! distant pines bleached with midnight.
mia is all valve and vein and no spine.
some call this floppy – sure is a floppy
little girl, they used to say.
lately feelin’ like a needle in a dank haystack
[ inmate raves/inmate craves/
inmate studies for good grades/
inmate of number, not of name/
inmate in race for power, fame/ ]
cell activities on loop
or maybe time-lapse? stone hopped on
the upstate ride then s-dot brought the radio,
nail clippers to stash the makeshift motor.
excess pop music.
is it too late now
to say sorry? love & hip-hop
effervescent. kardashians in full bloom.
I’m burning here. drifting probably.
get a letter read
a letter drop the daily
one week two
pour, sift, pour. ‘what
you writin’ a novel?’ I’m
not sure anymore.
light start new year. frequence
in laughter now – high-five!
(look at the elbow, it’s the road to perfection)
(gotta make ‘em laugh)
moonwalk with the wagging fingers, doing the jig
goofystyle behind steel
and cinderblock nights.
suspension of half-hearted
resolutions. I’ll be better tomorrow.
ARF! when we reverberate and oakland vibrates
slowly behind somewhere
in the quickly aging distance.
when does waiting turn to wastin
mia rests in a pile.
thou knowest this man’s fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling
[ inmate quotes lupe fiasco/inmate douses eggs
with tobacco/inmate dozes before The End/inmate
drives to mall with friends/ ]
gin and tonics foreshadow the uber
downtown. immaculate tears
church shadow. party brunch: sunday
funday in the warmer now D.
phone call: ‘I just need to be fucked
senseless’ – vicarious afternoon
to say the least.
in ferndale right
on the urban cuff a fringe
we all cling to. molly
at the afterhours. rage go dumb
stumble out go
numb. high school
friend pocketed an education (fully paid for!) new
data analyst. see! things
sometimes do happen. back in hometown
our young ghosts parade through
the old stomping grounds
reverse white flight.
mia grabs pebbles by the handful
and keeps the smallest one of every batch.
at the end of the day
she pools the smallest
and picks the smallest of those.
what is this worth?
when she presses one
into their palms as they leave
the beach at sunset.
we are all already dying
[ inmate drowning
in student loans/inmate needs second mortgage on home/
inmate so tired of sleeping alone/
inmate sits down to pen a poem/ ]
encounter on the scene:
yellow meets self while
hard that’s what self
supposes. colourblast implodes sky
once-hidden voice suggests.
and yesterday guy
says america's poisoned
becoming feminine, gay and
black. self can’t help
but think, manifest
destiny? green grass
never died just was once covered,
dirty snow and bootprints.
(youhearme?) no one ‘round here
seems to care just ache
for drink and fuck and eat
a couple hardnose cats
flippin’ cards for whitesoaps, ramen blocks.
they hear there’s a new whiteboy
with a few daddy-issues, conveniently
they got a history of problem
solvin’. kid next door drunk
off potato liquor (his own party brunch):
scraping sandals when he walks
head hung low like a creek
along the grudge-march to the great
american west. says he’s part
native. true story. self guesses
all our histories are dyed
or stained. and in strange innocence to boot.
mia says I can see them undress me
I know I know that look and I don’t like it
I don’t like it one bit.
‘man, I promise. I’m so self-conscious’
[ inmate in house/inmate in cell/
inmate gets cancer/inmate gets well/
inmate fights/inmate writes/inmate daydreams
late at night/ ]
bloods crips vice
disciples latin kings
euros and honkeys
crews bike clubs
north south east west
reppin’ time (youhearme?)
recruitment season early
for the summer treaties.
mia takes inventory:
1. woman at crosswalk pushes crosswalk button ten
times in rapid succession
2. store self-checkout attendant checks cart
for stolen goods
3. dater checks date for evidence of commitment
4. student sits cross-legged across from teacher, waits
for teacher to award score for feelings
5. real change for sale, offers street news-man
selling real change
6. person cuts line in airport queue to board plane
(here it’s all grocery aisles and bus stops
you tryin’ to come home?
[ inmate holding jury instructions/
inmate still working in construction/ ]
yesterday you called
on the phone you don’t have
to tell me in the voice I cannot hear
that you will get out
before you’re out,
just you wait, you said.
mia asks about the razorwire above the fence
on the I5 overpass: it’s how we keep people
who can’t keep
themselves, they explain.
everybody’s doing time
great gravitational waves collide,
make great gravitational energy.
we are surprised. for such big numbers
collide seems not up to the task.
the waves were from holes
that met and then sold
themselves to each other,
sixty-two times the mass of our sun
which is, as you’ve reminded me,
a fucking dying star.
please try to right yourself,
they tell mia.
they teach the kids to draw portraits
with circles for heads and rectangle torsos.
where will your soul go if not in a box?
who you kiddin’?
wore it on your sleeve, kid.
well, no one ain’t howlin’
no regional blues.
HOLISTICALLY FOR LIFESTYLE… BRILLIANT
‘always knew she’d do it… always
in oakland, frisco.
woke up on the far side of the spectrum
[ inmate kisses/inmate fucks/inmate seems
to have bad luck/inmate doesn’t say it much
but inmate thinks I’ve had enough…/ ]
come-hither breeze slips
inside open window. nothing
so clear as the ardent
a koan soothed
with this chanting of the trenchant
when mia writes about the planets and the stars
they say she should leave such topics to the experts.
shot down the constellations so we could hang them back up
[ inmate longing for commitment/inmate begs
for lesser sentence/inmate in love and – yes! –
loved back/inmate killed
while driving black/ ]
it’s always the they who say
never the sayers of the they.
who gets to choose
you get to fall on?
mia’s writes roses:
trying to hideaway
they keep trying
to civilize me
decided on the playground we all wanted new flavors
mr. bureauman, how much time can money buy?
mr. troubleman, when innocence shifts where does it go?
mr. judgementman, when men hang blankets over cell windows, do they leave any holes
for some light to get in?
a warm front came and went.
puddles, puddles all around, early
under the rising light
1) Theft: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 134
“We share work primarily in the form of letters, and “the prison years: warmer now (michigan winter 2016)” reflects our investigation into this back-and forth: What is inevitably omitted when two people communicate only via written correspondence? What life is revealed through the cracks in these omissions? What creative universe is possible in the gulf that exists between two lives unfolding in parallel worlds (prison and the ʺoutside worldʺ)?”
Justin Monson is a writer/visual artist/spoken-work artist living in Saginaw, Michigan. Leigh Sugar is a writer and movement artist, soon relocating to New York. They met in Jackson, Michigan through the Prison Creative Arts Project.