“The Prisoner ” by Jennifer Jean

 Why poetry?  Because content needs form.
And form needs attention.  An inmate
in Hungnam, in the waning days of the Korean War,
washed his red chapped, limeburned body
with half his water ration.  He stretched
pectorals, hamstrings, and psoas
before dawn while the whole death
camp slept—the inspired air elongating
his ligaments and stamina.  When form is attended
content rises from a deep.  The mayflies can be seen
mating in flight, in the latrine.  It is a kind of love
in the sulfate mist.  It is enough—
hefted he can heft
one hundred and thirty bags of acidic manure
from conveyor belt to truck.  From conveyor belt to truck
he took care with 40 kilo bags of crystalline
crap sent to feed the gardens of his enemies.
He took on the tonnage of his team,
converting their eight hours unto death
into five unto life.  These fast friends
sat out the day meters away from an ammonia surge,
their broken skin weeping blood
slower in the lightening, in the little coup,
in the cold.   Anything can be shared with the other.
Even half his rice ration.  Less is more
he said, blooming.  Even prayers in prison
can be sung for the other; imagine,
he sang to his beloved Hananim,
Heavenly Parent, Don’t worry about me…  Imagine,
I pour forth content into this container
and the poem lives and gives,
meaning I’m set free.  This too is a miracle.

(originally published in Tidal Basin Review, Summer 2011 issue)


Jennifer JeanJennifer Jean’s poetry books include: The Archivist and In the War. She’s released Fishwife Tales, a collaborative CD; and, her writing has appeared in Caketrain, Drunken Boat, Poetica, Tidal Basin, Poets/Artists, The Mom Egg, Denver Quarterly, and more. Jennifer blogs for Amirah, an advocacy group for sex-trafficking survivors, and she teaches writing at Salem State University. For more on Jennifer, visit: www.fishwifetales.com