“The Approach” and Other New Poems by “Conway”

My correspondent “Conway” has been very prolific this summer, writing poetry inspired by the books and printouts I’ve sent him: T.S. Eliot, Alexandre Dumas, Stephen Dobyns, and even yours truly. Conway is the pen name of a resident in a maximum-security prison in California, where he’s serving 25-to-life for receiving stolen goods under the state’s draconian three-strikes law. Here’s a selection from his recent work:

The Approach

The Sky offers empty promises
smiling with toothy clouds
blades hiding in the invisible wind
pushing forward an orgasmic rain
wide open mouth, stuttering-n-drooling
over the gloriously ravaged land
polished and preened for the dance
electric frustration crackling
instinctive thunder cackling
destructively loud vibrations cuss
at all of mother nature’s fuss
primping for her approaching sun
another beautiful day begun…



Smell the dust circulating
rumble of gears, chattering wind
pushing past shadows of patience again
pressed faces on clear glass, melted sand
trapped & strapped as time flails
crouching in concrete jails
tumbling hearts in a coin-op dryer
hoping tears will gratify
those moments that pass them by

seasons march with unseen smoke
dawn breaks down upon the broke
strung up tight in spider spun cords
sung all night by distraught mothers
and those muddy misplaced others
pretending to be alive…

One of their pastimes in prison is the “poetry war”, challenging one another to come up with poems or raps on specific topics, often in response to a previous poem by the challenger. I had sent him this ballade I wrote in college, which was inspired by Richard Wilbur’s Ballade for the Duke of Orleans:

Ballade of the Fogg Art Museum
by Jendi Reiter (1990)

The squat museum’s walls decline in plaster;
black iron gates like screens before it rise,
given by graduates now turned to dust or
some more profitable enterprise.
Inside the vaulted halls, the street noise dies
the way the light too fades, as filtered through
too many windows, till the sight of skies
uncovered seems forever out of view.

Upon the wall the carving of some master
hangs as it did over centuries of cries
seeking the aid of this tired saint whose lost or
disputed name was once a healing prize;
saint of the mute, saint of the paralyzed,
of cures some true and some believed as true,
all that their less than truth and more than lies
uncovered seems forever out of view.

Lone stained-glass windows stand, as if the vaster
church fell away and in the rubble lies,
disordered jewels, displayed as if they last were
no necklace, broken when the wearer dies.
Behind them a lit wall the hue of ice,
unchanging light that cannot prove them true,
the sun’s capricious grace that stupefies
now covered and forever out of view.

These corridors wish also to sequester
the wanderer in halls as dim and dry as
the echoes of dead theologians’ bluster
of strict dichotomies that like a vise
close round the listener, until he tries
to follow their imagined bird’s-eye view
of black lines, like this map, where all that eyes
uncover is forever out of view.

Like some grim doctor of the church, the plaster
bust of the founder means to supervise,
mute guardian of a world he tries to master
by over-studying what he is not wise
enough to love; a searching hand that pries
out each thread separately to find the true,
happiest when the tapestry they comprise
is covered and forever out of view.

Above this roof, a bird descends no faster
than snow through shining air, like some demise
so graceful that it isn’t a disaster;
to be a fallen angel would be prize
enough if one could but fall through such skies,
past autumn bursts of leaves’ bright mortal hue
which no recording hand can seize, which lies
uncovered now, then ever out of view.

A wasted hand preserves and petrifies
the gilded tree, flat heaven’s lapis blue.
The leaf must fall, the leaf must improvise,
uncovered now, then ever out of view.

In response, Conway wrote the poem below. It plays more loosely with the form but has an immediacy and passion that my old poem lacks. Round #1 to him!

Ballade of Arms Justice

by Conway


This prison squall defines disaster

how many doors of life must waste

Through corridors paint, white alabaster

statues risen — fall wine they taste;

dear ground bones have, fed budgets bill.

Minds’-eye blue sky, though still it lingers

upon thy heart and always will

it pays long arms, not sticky fingers…


Now here in thought, recoiled much faster

and left our freedom more in haste

These green suit goons design my master
keys that unlock, chains round my waist
and slop I cannot stomach still
we must digest this smell that lingers
until we’re sure we’ve had our fill
for long arms pay, not sticky fingers…

Those white house pillars, fake alabaster
have kept injustice-jackboots laced
we fear the blue steel beanbag blaster
upon the skin burned sentence placed;
It was against forefathers will
to plant, the prosecutions ringers
on the side that fights to steal
laws long arm pays, not sticky fingers…

Law keep your lies, you’re not my master
I cannot be easily replaced
My family reels from this disaster
your long arms pay not, our sticky fingers…

One comment on ““The Approach” and Other New Poems by “Conway”

  1. zhenimsja says:

    Hi, comrade! I am totally acclaim this way of assumption and all of connected.

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