Prison Years

Lovelock Cave

I want—
my starved finger tips want—
to touch the clouds
in that November sky,

to mix, with the edge of my thumb,
Mars black and titanium white
in bright scallops and deep troughs
on stretched canvas,

to reach out my vermilioned brush
and note the canvasbacks’ descent
to rest among these reeds.

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Doing Time

For more, click “Prison Writings”

ANOTHER PLACE TO BE

A prison is a place under the sky, a particular spot on the planet, with its weather, its wild air and wild light. In the fortress-like pink stone building in downtown Boston, where I was jailed when I first surrendered, my cell looked down on a single city tree, six stories below. When I was moved to a cell that faced nothing but the slab walls and reflective windows of another wing of the jail, I sat at the wood platform that was bolted to the wall for a desk, looked out at the intense blank blue of the October sky and wondered how I would survive.

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My Ten Books

For six years I lived in a prison cell where I was allowed to possess ten books. I could also have the books for courses I was taking in the prison’s education program, but only for the duration of the course for which they were assigned. My jailers were not particularly anti-intellectual; they had security concerns. They had to limit the amount of flammable material available in the event that we staged a riot and started burning things up. They had to rigidly control clutter in case we might be using disorder to hide a weapon, drugs, an unauthorized plastic container, or an extra piece of fruit.

Some inmates defied the rules. They would accumulate extra books, counting on the casualness of the officers’ searches to slip them by. But I went to prison to give up being an outlaw, to stop spending mental energy wondering if I would get caught at something.

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My Journey to Non-Violence

Ripple Reflection

In answering the Page Five questions, I want to make it clear that my offenses include not only the events of 1970, when Walter Schroeder was killed during a bank robbery, but also my 23-year flight from justice and my defensive posture at the time of my surrender. I particularly want to acknowledge that the Schroeder family have been victims of my action in each of these three phases.

Phase I: The Robbery and Murder

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China

Now the writing is interrupted by a big drama on the phone—China has escaped from the locked unit of the psychiatric hospital where she was sent after her third suicide attempt here. She charmed one of the male attendants into leaving a door unlocked yesterday and is supposed to be on her way to some place in Florida that he set her up with. Of course he rolled over the minute they held the prospect of jail over his head. That explains this morning’s room raid—I am the Vietnam war radical, and she was the Cambodian refugee. There is a certain logic in thinking that I might want to abet her.

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Washing the Bitterness Out

Frightening to think that life could hang on a shred of garbage: on a spiral of orange and white skin uncurling from a fruit, droplets of orange oil escaping from the peel’s bruised cells under a prison inmate’s fingers. As I sat slumped in a flimsy tan plastic chair in the dayroom, the familiar, bleak inner fog weighed my face into heavy-muscled immobility, this dullness a final retreat from the sadness about nothing, about everything, that is depression. I’d gone to the prison serving room for dinner but eaten nothing, the bread like cotton and the peas like paste in my mouth. I lacked the energy to walk the rest of the way to my cell. Once I would have wondered how I would live through the night. By now I knew I didn’t have the drive it takes to defeat my billion body cells in their millions-of-years-evolved, organ by organ determination to go on living.

Even in this heavy state some reflex of my peasant/chef sensibility rebelled at the loss to the trash of what, with a little sugar, contained the possibility of brilliance.

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A Recipe for Radishes

Bunch of Radishes

I used to write recipes for a living. Every day a half dozen culinary arts students would troop into the kitchen at the community college, tape up 8½ by 11 inch sheets full of my hand-printed amounts, ingredients, and procedures, and make lunch, including vegetables, for two hundred people.

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Thanksgiving, 1999

Last night, the night before Thanksgiving, I visited every supermarket and ice cream store in town looking for rum raisin ice-cream and frozen squash. I had planned to recreate the dessert from my final prison Thanksgiving, caramelized squash tartlets in flaky pastry shells topped with the rum raisin ice cream.

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Afterwards

The scoured tub and toilet bowl remind me that my hope in surrendering and going to prison was that when I got out, I would be able to hold a job and keep my house clean.

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October

This is not like a love affair—
the rising of this breast of ground
to my embrace. It is
a love affair. I give
my mornings to mists’ kisses; winds lift
my loosened hair; my afternoons—
sun’s yet-strong stroke on my bare calf.
Then rain
and in the puddle by the street-
lamp’s light, the oak’s last russet leaf
beneath my heeled boot, it ends.

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Still Life, September Afternoon

Night eats at the day from both ends.
Like a tender annual, I know the chill
belies the bright sun,
portends the death
I have gotten used to carrying.

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Day 400 of the Rule "No Sitting on the Grass"

In the camps they will tell you
no one stays hungry
forever. Sooner or later you stop
desiring, then feeling, believing. Starvation
sets in, and if cool green grass by magic
appeared, So what? your tired shoulders
would shrug. You would mill around the packed dirt
hollow-eyed—

Someday will you lead me to the river’s edge,

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The Poet's Life

I’m with you, Brodsky,
sentenced to the peat bogs.
Sit your tired body on the bed
at the end of a day pushing wheelbarrow. Take off your
manure-stinking boots
and write
and when the scandalized ask,
say, I rather enjoyed it.

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Seasonality

I suppose they must have exhausted themselves,
the field of tinier-than-one-quarter-of-my-own- small-fingernail purple to magenta five petalled flowers with their dot of yellow center
blooming scattered over five feet square of the weediest, deadest looking scrap of yard
from eleven a.m. to one or two p.m. daily.

I checked for them
each time I passed; each time, they caught me
in their stunted beauty. I blew them kisses
to the consternation of the yard guards.
Two, at separate times, I plucked.

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Three Poems on a Prison Suicide

I.
You were not sentenced to die
hanged
by a thin shred of jailhouse bathrobe
from a louvered vent
high up enough that you had to climb.

You have to be really serious
about dying
to pull that off.

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Modus Vivendi

A bright young thing, I went off to make
My way in the affluent set.
We’d have comfort, security, and prestige
And never a moment’s regret.
But cities were burning, Buddhist monks were burning,
Burned babies were the evening news.
By the light of those fires I turned my back on it all
And walked till I had nothing to lose.

I was young, I was righteous, I knew it all;
I left a family without their father.

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Dangerous

I defy the rules
of “Bind your feet” and “Bind your breasts,”
button the State-issue chambray shirt
over bare skin,
walk out into the late-June sun,
sit on the young grass, and dare
to take off my shoes.

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[My Sorrow Sits, Like a Strong Magnet]

My sorrow sits, like a strong magnet
beneath my heart
and draws down to itself,
to one metallic, brittle block,
my lively heat
until
I am like an alabaster icon
of Demeter—
barren womb, dried breasts,
limbs frozen in mid
motion.

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Exile, April

At home the daffodils have naturalized
and grow like weeds
bright yellow
in the grass seed fields

rhododendrons I do nothing at all for
give pale purple double blooms
in profusion for a month

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Valentine's

No zucchini flower, fecund work complete,
to pass through lightest batter
and crisp in new- pressed olives’ oil,
nor tomato red as lips
to shoot warm burst of juice and seed
from crushing teeth to tongue,
nor sun-burned limbs to stride bare
into chill rivers,
nor perfume of August grass fresh-cut for seed
to rise on evening air.

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[for William Kunstler]

Death
has come into my life.
Not the dragon Fear-of-Death.
Not the napalm raining from the sky Death-in-War.
Not the cold dark Death-as-Rest-from-Pain.

But the sudden death of old men,
the brutal, here just last year gossiping and storytelling
now empty—

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[The Swiss priest said...]

The Swiss priest said, “Look
at the word.
Woman means woe to man.”

He took the boys for ice climbs
on the Rockies’ glaciers
while I sat at home on the couch
getting what my brother called
fat knees.

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GangRape

Your rage, indeed. You raped out your rage
on my Aunt Marie
and left her in a catatonic dread
until she died
three months later.

You say in passing that you sometimes thought
about her feelings
while your brothers spent their rage
on my Aunt Marie
and the others.

I want to make my hand into a fist
and fuck it past your tongue
down through your lungs, your belly, and your bowels
into some place
where you still feel.

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Elegy for a Cowboy

The December Death Certificate records AMI: acute myocardial infarction, heart attack

The final rend in a heart that broke three months ago,
The sunny October morning you rode out in the roundup on the gelded roan, your favorite,
To gather cow-calf pairs from the cheat grass grange

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[As, one November, I split firewood...]

As, one November, I split firewood in the heavy fog
a gaggle of lesser Canada geese flew over me
so low, I could have hit them with my axe.
Long before my time there was a shallow lake
here, where my house is built.

The old uncle remembers,
remembers what the uncle before him
and the uncle before him knew,
and leads the V shaped flight
of long mated pairs and their offspring
and their long mated pairs
looking for the lake in my back yard.

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The Seven Year Olds

To her mother, Where are you going, Mommy?
I’m going to visit my friend Katherine.

To her friends, She lives in jail.
Open-eyed, What did she do that she has to live in jail?

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Godwind

__The goal of spiritual direction is to develop in the directee
a personal relationship with god__.

You lifted me up from my place
at the top of the prison yard steps,
revealed Yourself to me

and for an instant
I knew you I was you. Traveling over all of time,

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Dust

Sometimes we would argue over
who left who first…

Where once we dried and tore the lettuces
That, tossed with oils from France,
Would complement the pheasant we had hunted,
The unused dining table gathers dust
And Jaime begs haphazard meals with friends.

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Lascaux

You knew
You knew and you drew on rock wall
By guttering lamplight
The true shape of beasts in flight

You knew
Hunter who had for life itself to know
As no modern day effete with oils and detail can know
That shape-in-motion and being the beast and desiring the beast and painting out that desire on rock in fervent prayer
is art.

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[Snatches of Vivaldi show up]

Snatches of Vivaldi show up
used for punctuation on a training tape
and my heart aches for beauty in this barrenness.

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[Insatiable, my eyes]

Insatiable, my eyes
rake November’s ground
as I walk the square—

on the sidewalk, tannic
ghosts laid down by rain
on last night’s leaves.

Fine, bright new-growth grass
bends in the wind as if
in obeisance to

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About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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