and Ronnie says Robert Hayden got
it right, a whipping be like that — “the face that I no longer
knew or loved” — damn, that’s it, right there      and
Ronnie doesn’t blame his mama for beating him so bad, but
maybe she could have kept her pipe in the car and then maybe
he never would have ended up in a foster home and maybe
if he hadn’t been such a pissed-off little shit-ass runt, maybe
they would have put him in a house with a mama who liked kids and maybe
then his foster dad wouldn’t have put his hands on him and made him run and

Dwayne doesn’t care what anyone thinks     Maya Angelou is the world’s best poet —
yeah, I said world — and “you may kill me with your hatefulness” ought to be the slogan
for every CO in this shithole, but still like air Dwayne’s gonna rise, he’s just praying his mama
don’t die before he gets out and he still thinks if he would have gone to his brother’s funeral when he
was nine, then maybe he wouldn’t have started crawling out the window at night looking for him and maybe
this is nuts, but for the life of him Dwayne cannot remember anyone telling him that Scotty died, but
they must have, right? and

Julio thinks Pablo Neruda’s got it wrong    just because your wife forgets you    just because she writes, You know I
can’t be alone    just because she sends your letters back — return to sender? what the fuck? — just because
another man’s sleeping in your goddamn bed don’t mean you forget her     “I shall stop loving you little
by little,” too?    I’m telling you straight, it don’t work like that and

RJ’s new and he doesn’t want to read anything, but can he just say something? He sold drugs.
He regrets it. He has accepted the Lord as his Almighty Savior. He regrets it, OK? OK. Thank you.
Marco tells him   son, this here’s a poetry class    and RJ says, well, shit, I thought it was that accountability
class we get credit for and we laugh and laugh and RJ says he likes what we’re doing over here
better than that chapel with all them white women, no offense, and their Bibles and gold
crosses and, Jesus, the men are even worse, the way they look at you like a bill
they gotta pay, but these are the only two damn places with air-conditioning
and we all agree it’s hotter than shit, and animals in a goddamn pound

are treated better and then I read Tim Seibles’s “First Kiss” and the men
place the words of his poem on their tongues like Communion
and we are all fifteen again, holy and hungry, standing under
a porch light while the earth splits beneath our feet and we
don’t move or speak because Tim’s words are still alive
in the space between us and beauty crumbles
when you try to catch it — we all know
that — so we let it settle on our skin
and hold our breath until Marco
says, like a prayer,

It be like that. It be just like that.