A JSTOR ACCESS IN PRISON Second Chance Essay submission from Minnesota


As a 72 year-old lifer with 45 years in, I see my Second Chances as being represented in each poem or essay I write. So . . . from the example below, how do you think I'm doing so far?

". . . turning the pages of this beautiful world
over and over, in the world of my mind." -- Mary Oliver

Under a sky
charged with the electric blue
of an active nuclear reactor pool,
we began the new day's journey
with a mild sun
climbing low
over our backs and shoulders
to nibble at the tender tendril-tips
of mist that had stayed out
too late for safety.

Spanning the dreamlike boundary
between deep sky and deep water,
our paddles bit into a thin and trembling
skin of liquid quicksilver
over which each shoreline object
extended an inverted twin --
cliffs and trees expanding and contracting
along their central line of contact,
while every larger rock and boulder sat hinged
like the gaping halves of gigantic clams.

A loon greeted the day with a perfect burble
of laughter, which the atmosphere pressed
against our receptive ears like seashells filled
with acoustic fistfuls of golden doubloons.

Along the passing bayfront ranged
a natural ossuary, littered with the polished,
glowing bones of conifers -- gathered and stacked
by decades of active wind and wave.

The moment the solar torch of early morning
stooped to kiss, fondle, and penetrate the lake,
it blushed into a glossy instrument of light
with honey-rosined, lustrous strings
that strummed and stirred
like unbound sinews into the depths.

Our shadow, like a loyal voyager
guide, led the way before,
matching our pace
thru the crystalline water,
carried inside the oblique scythings
and sheavings of surface streamings
as they splintered and spiraled
like translucent curtains
of unraveling spun glass
down the luminous palisades
of a pollen-spangled universe.

A few fathoms further below,
was reached the endpoint goal
of all light and shadow,
where both were forced to stop and linger,
restlessly flickering, wavering, and shape-shifting
like nervous ghosts
among the lairs and boulders
along the bottom.

A slight adjustment of the eye, and we were flying
across the lake's burnished surface
among scattered flocks of feathery clouds
that rose and set their course to sail
like a royal retinue of steady-winged pelicans
alongside our gunnels, their wings
ruffled up 3D
by puffs of small breeze.

On occasion, tearing free from drifting
nets of liquor-light, a startled bass
darted, sliding smoothly
thru the air-like clarity
of its shallow freshwater sea
like a flying fish.

Much higher up,
a quick brace of ducks --

(But the instant I dipped
a grasping hand,

all the magic then scattered.)

Editor's Note:

April is also Poetry Month. This is the second poem selected for this series. The prompt was "What role does education play in your second chance?" Roy's declaration at the outset that his writings represent his second chance compelled me to stretch a bit to include his work.  Plus, his poem made me uncomfortable.

Poetry is hard for me already - I have to slow down, ponder, question, revisit, and think some more. My limit is five lines before I want the author to just tell me what they are conveying. Long form poems (e.g. The Raven or The Ballad of Reading Gaol), broken into digestible pieces, provide waypoints for fiesty readers like me. Roy's submission unsettled me because it held my attention. I want to know if the bottom of the lake is how he perceives his current situation. Is a rich interior life taking flight "with the slight adjustment of the eye?" DEPTH PERCEPTION made me marvel that, after 45 years of imprisonment, he conjured all the sensations he described without having recent tactile experience to draw from. Roy has been in prison longer than he has lived as a physically free person. I started to imagine what people would draw from, and what would sustain them if they were in Roy's situation. I interrogated myself and doubted I would have the fortitude to produce art like this. Education is often about connection, and under that rubric, Roy's submission is a solid A from me.

People serving life sentences are less likely to receive educational opportunities, and I value what Roy's poem can teach us about what we choose to hold onto.