Gretchen Primack

Andre Going Home

                        Southern Correctional

Knowing me as I do:
the German spirit in the black faces
of me: The black spirit in my German
bearing: I know what I will come to know
of Whitehead’s manifold frustrations
of liberty
. I know some nights
I’ll want to lock in.

Some days my shoes will fill
with dread and keep me boxed.
Some nights my chest will press
against me, keep me cornered.

Some days the free will reach
out with all the mad fingers
of its body and keep me locked.

There are whole swaths of me
I haven’t seen in years.
O doors, let me open you
with my exhales. Gates,
let me close you behind me
with my inhales. Street,
let me be too unimportant
to ruin again.

Marcus (B3)

                        Southern Correctional

Dust the rain kicks up from
cement looks like your angel
breath and smells like smoke
over a construction site,
its ordered mayhem,
the smoke falling through
my ribs, the ordered mayhem
you have made of me.

Keeplocked, windows
are everything.
A kid, I ate in the dark.
A teen, I drank outside.
A teen, I came here and here
I am, a man.

But where would we have met
but here? You help me be here
because you are precious
and you are here.

War of the heart.
They want to deny me
just what saves me here.
Here, where I am to be saved.
We are not allowed, love.
And so: Resistance.
Just what these walls spur
in me is what they want
to crush.

But this is where you
gathered me in
and all the chambers
of you called out warm,
“You are, we are.”

Majestic on His Way

                        Southern Correctional

Every tenth body in green walks by
in white skin.
Every tenth body in blue
walks by in unwhite skin.

On our way to mess, seas split
around civilians: the named
among the numbered,
pastors and teachers and workmen

parting the black sea.
There they go, into the pastor’s
promised land, the teacher’s
hallowed halls, the workman’s

deep toolbox. The brown sea seals
behind them and their blue white
escorts. Our tributary twists to mess,
its line of forks and cups.

King (The Yard)

                        Southern Correctional

                        On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their                         actual size. In here, people
                        grow into their shadows.
                                 —Rene Denfeld, The Enchanted

When the cloud bottoms turn to fish bellies
I leave the yard.

A yard is where our plastic pool sat
in Far Rockaway. That can’t

have happened.
That it happened

saves me every night.
There are always shadows

in this yard, on the courts
and benches, cement pockets,

the armory wall. Shadows of
every shade, wherever

the sun is, the dark. Darker.
Darkest. The filmed-over.

Trees cracking their knuckles
in wind.

Black air rushing in
where the sun’s air

doesn’t want to be.
Every shade. Men

and their shadows,
whatever the clouds do,

whatever I’ve done,
the shadows rush into

any space,
spaces are stuffed

with them, so that
I must make

as little space
as I can.

Author Portrait

Gretchen Primack is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection Visiting Days (Willow Books), which explores the world of maximum-security men's prison and from which these poems come, as well as two other collections, Kind (Post-Traumatic Press) and Doris’s Red Spaces (Mayapple Press). Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, FIELD, Poet Lore, Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. She has administrated and taught with college programs in prison for many years and moonlights at an indie bookstore in Woodstock, N.Y.

View the website of Gretchen Primack