Poem “LETTERS AND TRAINS” Examines the Significance of Receiving Mail in Prison


Letters arrive as if by train at a station platform

The puff and steam from men of all sizes and power.

Awaiting crowds crammed and craning on deck

To see the size and heft of it and in the mouth of it.

Peering, like through small car windows, even

from the corner, across from government art.

Himself the towering locomotive between two tracks of tables

Is the Conductor, steeped in blue with loops of keys, shouts:

“Mail Call,” “Mail Call,” “Last Call for Mail Call”

And shouting the names, Lopez, White, Hernandez, Coker…

All listen, the hopeful closer, the privileged closest,

The lost or forgotten eerily busy in their houses.

The mail bag emptied, the men exhale the final steam.

My name is called and I run alongside, late, waving

The loved ones have arrived, sent by partners, family.

My passengers manifest and take my hand, overhead

passing through packed uniforms to my numbered house.

Stacked by subject; letters, newspapers, novels, law.

First, we chat and laugh out loud as we used to do.

The stories alive and memories return like the children

In The Color Purple, in majestic colors

And we later sit in silence too, like we used to do.

In school, at the firm, at home, before court.

I then introduce them to others, interested or in need.

Sometimes we have no visitors among arrivals

So we return the next day and each succeeding day

Turned away, hard men blink like boys.

Sometimes it takes years to stop greeting the train

Most often we never stop, still watching, listening, hoping

Such is the power and allure of letters in prison.

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