Holmesburg Prison, Philadelphia by Leonard Kress

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.
www.leonardkress.com

Five Poems by Ron Riekki

The Kid Who Drank Himself to Death During the War

lived in the barracks right across from mine.
His face was all brilliant with light, like
the sun hitting the ocean. And they hit us
in boot camp, the revelation of that, how
the recruiters don’t mention this little fact,

or they did—unsure if they still do it now,
but my suspicion is yes, the fists all bone
and temple, the church of war. I remember
my mind before the explosions, how it used
to think properly, or maybe it didn’t, the river

near my home owned by the mines now,
oranged. I walked to it yesterday, stared
down into the deranged red, so close to
the color of blood. I pulled up my hood
and walked home. I can walk though.

*

I Worked in Prison

My jobs have all been fist fights for cash.
When I was a boxer, I started getting tremors,
the doctor telling me to stop or they’d become
permanent. I stopped. They stayed. I thought
about how I’d been a boxer my whole life,
even before I was boxing, how the military
takes your skull and kills it. Sure, you can
still live, but it’s a bit like your body is
a house that’s been built, but abandoned,
foreclosed, possessed, a sort of Satanism
to corporation, a sort of corpse-creation,
that reminds me so much of prison, how
there were all these sons in there, no sun,
the paleness of their skin, everyone, no
matter your race, how it looked like they
were all fading, their psyches, their souls,
the violence where if they ever got out
I knew they’d be changed, how violence
stays in your veins, how a bloody life
stays in your blood, how we really,
honestly, could do anything else other
than what we’re doing and it’d be
better, but we’re promised to this cash.

*

(lucky) I Work in Medical

Which means medical works
me, because medical doesn’t
work, because of this equation:
politics + medicine = politics,
and the nursing homes aren’t
homes and there isn’t nursing
there, because the CNAs and
the med techs and the EMTs
are all making minimum wage,
which means my partner fell
asleep driving the ambulance,
turning it upside-down, just
like his life, trying to make

the torment of rent, how it
tore into us, you, me, every-
one when even the EMTs
don’t have health insurance,
and we know that the word
minus ends with US, because
it’s all about erasers, melting
pots where the kids come in
overdosing on marijuana and
one of them says, But you can’t
overdose on pot and I tell him
Well, you are right now and
it’s beautiful—hyperemesis,

how it is, this existence where
the overdoses are normalized,
where my uncle, his heroin
addiction in a hick town, how
I call him and he answers,
voice in slow motion, the ice
outside his window so loud
that I can hear it, the blizzards
of poverty (the anti-poetry),
A Cell of One’s Own and
we’re owned and I’m ranting
about the renting because I
am worried as hell about home-

lessness because the word virus
ends with US and this won’t
get published unless the editor
has been to the pub and is OK
with saying f- censorship—too
afraid to write the word, too
afraid to talk about how when
they play the sexual harassment
training videos at work, everyone
does a play-by-play commentary
like Misery Science Theater 2021,
how we’re all Orwelled and all it
takes is one hospital bill to end a life.

*

In This Poem, I Am Happy and Blessed

but it’s a short poem. It’s a poem where God
gives me a bird, walking, at my feet, how I
almost didn’t see it, the thing rainbowed as
all hell. Who makes something that beautiful?

I snuff out my clove, hurry inside to my cubicle.

*

I Can’t Stop Winking

It’s a defective muscle. My trauma-head
all butchered. But people misread it, think
I’m flirty. Or that I’m sharing some sort
of secret with them. They look directly
in my eyes with a look like yes, I under-
stand too or yes, I saw it as well. Saw
what? The occasional frown, sometimes
a wink back, sexy. But I’m twice
their age. I want to apologize, say
that my eye is owned by history, but
they just move on, their bodies so
perfect, able to control everything.
How do they do that? How?

*

Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited The Many Lives of It (McFarland), And Here (MSU Press), Here (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book).