Holmesburg Prison, Philadelphia
The guards circulate among the prisoners
asking, who wants to sell a patch today? Meaning a
patch of skin—detached—to test the effect of toxins
on living flesh. There are takers, eager to escape
the crowd inside their 5 x 8 cell, selling what’s left
to the Penn professor, well-funded. I was here once,
waiting—my wife visiting her cousin from Poland,
sitting Poles say, for brawling at the Polish Eagles
Club, threatening to bomb the dance at Saint Adalbert’s,
shipped back to the village, a harmless drunk farmer with
a moped and Ursus tractor. The prison abuts
Pennypack Park and surely inmates thought of what kids,
did under the stone bridge, baring fresh unexcised flesh.
Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review,
Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard
Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex and Walk
Like Bo Diddley. Living in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his new
verse translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam
Mickiewicz were both published in 2018. Craniotomy Sestinas appeared
in 2021. He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens College in Ohio.
The Franklin Institute
All the wonders of science and invention
stood before us in the distance: if only
we could decode the pattern of the Parkway lights—
our grandmother in her green coat and hat,
the scent of Jean Nate,
leading the three of us with our blond crew cuts
on the day’s expedition: the trolley ride
into town; soft pretzels from a vendor.
And then, as amused Ben Franklin looked on,
peering through his tiny spectacles,
our stepping into the crosswalk—
the talk so many years later
not of the Planetarium, nor even the Giant Heart,
but our awe of tall buildings, the bewildering
phenomenon of commerce and traffic;
our linking hands as if entering
a panorama—sun glinting off metal and chrome.
Stopping Between Errands to Watch Little League Baseball
Forget the hardware store,
the broken clapper
on the running toilet.
And the wilting asparagus,
the half-gallon of mint chocolate
sweating it out
in the sauna of the trunk.
Unlike my fellow spectators in the stands,
I have nothing invested here:
no regard for the score
or, as I’d had years before,
no son to cheer as he stands at bat
or maintains his poise on the pitcher’s mound.
But like some roving ambassador,
a retired neighbor filling his days,
I have taken these moments
to play anonymous fan
for both the reds and the yellows
as they compete on the field.
To feel the sun on my arms,
on the back of my neck,
to be a man interrupted—
without a list or an agenda,
who if only just briefly
on a Saturday afternoon
can put out of mind
the unpacking of groceries
and querulous fixtures.
Can resist even the call
of the pent-up mower—
shrill and exacting,
that disciplines grass.
Joseph Chelius works as a principal editor for a health care communications company. His poetry has appeared in journals and magazines such as Commonweal, Poetry East, Poet Lore, Rattle, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and THINK. He has published two full-length collections with WordTech editions in Cincinnati: The Art of Acquiescence (2014) and Crossing State Lines (2020).