Erna Hennessy
On Going To Prison

have been in prison before
as a curious tourist to Alcatraz
daring solitary confinement for thirty seconds.

Today I am visiting Walter, in solitary confinement
from age seventeen to forty-four.

Walter is an artist.
Using a yellow envelope fastener, he scrapes color
from the pictures in his National Geographic,
making little piles of red, blue, black
layering each pile with a thin coat of breakfast butter.
Rolling a piece of paper tightly, fraying the tip,
he makes his brush.
The stiffest tool he is allowed is a Bic Pen filler.
This he uses for accents as he paints
a rose, a morning glory, a sunrise.

His excellent glue is made from jelly beans
kept under a light bulb for a week.

At seventeen he committed a terrible crime.
Society committed a foster home crime against him.
He ran away from all six of them and had nothing to do.
Can he at last have found a permanent home…and a profession.


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