you must hush down the voices when entering prison
the mind fears the hyenas stalking outside of prison

if i care for this man with fingers of claw
or harpoon, or blade, or a cage like a prison

when he weeps for his past, can i still love women?
i hold his head to my chest, spit out the word prison

but i know the shame of a body forced to be lived in
broken and haunted, isn’t this, too, a prison?

to what island do we banish, strike sin from our prism?
let’s pluck all the mangos and boat past the prison!

let them drool on our jewels, a new day has risen
grown bold as an oak, I sneak fruit back to prison

who will forgive me my silence
fear of darkness is its own prison

wash in light like baptism
before we die in this prison

don’t let the air fool you
everywhere is a prison

can’t answer why
very word is a prison






Occasionally I'll argue a lie
to make the story stronger.
My husband says I have not lived
real life and I want to open
my jacket and reveal a smile
drawn on a bomb, round
as cartoon, to paint my hands red
and slap the cheeks of police.
Here's the truth: I care what people think.
I just want our photos on the Internet.
I watch other couples with their draped
arms and sloppy grins, I want a slice of that
motorcycle jacket, hiking trail, Christmas
tree, but I have taken his last name.
He says he cannot make real art until
his parents die, which means we will
silence our lips once we step off the plane
we will slide on endless night, the quieted heart.
Every time he says it I imagine my head
decorating the shaft of a sword,
a monster dancing me into sky.
It seems as silly to me, this idea
that a poet can be dangerous.
No one even reads anymore.
I think he is exaggerating until I see
the AK 47s with my own eyes,
eight of them packed onto the stage of
truck bed, guarding the President’s home.
I slip my camera over the lip of the car
window and get swatted away.
Don’t think they won’t shoot you.
I come home without photographs.
I put a stopper between my lips
until I am swollen with precious water
now I want them all to know I live real
life, too, but cannot unlearn this hush.
Instead I put the single photo of me
and zebras in a display case.
It wasn't Hawaii beaches, I say.
I hide the rest under my tongue.






mule backed its ass into sunset:
a tiny halo expanding

inside pink as a conch
swimming the river

frightened of the red scar branded
on the chest of a boy, a thick keloid

wetter than a sea creature
I was eight, dreaming

of his zippered chest nude
I tasted something new, summer

it was hot, wet as meat falling
the bone of my rigid form, rusted

it was winter, we walked to see
a deer dangling in its original skin

a long cut down the length of the belly
hung by its ankles from a tree

there was snow on the ground
a fabricated blanket inside me

rattled by the smell of disrobed flesh
breath a wind I could bottle

erect anatomy, a sharpened knife
I wanted to cut me in two

I was young then and I am young now
sunflowers have choked the fields

I return to the same road
in search of a carcass, alone

with the trick of memory, before all
the hands had beaten or clawed

or steadied against, peeling away bark
the mind’s chasm ratcheted open

               tell me about when you were ruined

in dark woods his fingers kicked,
a squid beneath the ocean of my waistline
the older boys burning the pages of a Bible
and laughing, his apple breath, sweet

               she is not the enemy, bend down,
               pull up your skirt & talk to her

I do not want to cry into your cave,
I whisper to the button between my legs
help me learn to push the canon down
the slick tunnel inside until it blasts
silently under water, clearing, showing me
another door, a way to see blue sky

               okay. why do you think it happened to you?

why any of us

               why the wind

                                       why this

girl in the paper whose entire face
was burned with acid by her own father

I want to say it is men whose feet are
machetes, but I own a mirror and two eyes

I hang up my human robe and run
towards the horizon, but it runs, too

can one be reborn in darkness?
or must something be cut away.



"These three poems serve varying purposes, but stem from the same underlying impulse: a grappling with aspects of the human experience that are disturbing to one's identity, disruptive to the world, and difficult to hold, even with the people we love. I often find myself thinking of the many ways the word "prison" can imply an entrapment beyond the walls of correctional facilities, where I happen to teach and probably gets into my psyche that way— imprisonment by society, dictatorship, sexuality, abuse, relationships, self. Why does anyone write poems? I think I am probably like many, writing to remember, to witness, to confront, to open, to pull apart, to ask questions, to turn the mirror back on myself, to understand."

Caits Meissner's poetry has been awarded first place prizes from the Pan-African Literary Forum and the Ja’Nai Foundation and she serves as a Founding Editor of The Wide Shore: A Global Journal of Women’s Poetry. Her work is published in various journals including Drunken Boat, Radius, The Feminist Wire, The Offing and The Literary Review. Caits facilitates youth and adults in multi-media expression in prisons, schools and community centers, and online at