John-Michael Bloomquist is a poet traveling with his wife. He has taught poetry at the Monroe County Jail, and he co-edited Poems from the Jail Dorm, a collection of poetry by incarcerated men published by Monster House Press.   His poetry has been published in The Superstition Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Third Coast and many more, with forthcoming work in Painted Bride Quarterly. He is a gift economist at, a public arts project where you can trade trash for poetry. 

Ave Maria

John-Michael Bloomquist

for H.H. the Dalai Lama


Before you were recognized as the child,

a Chinese couple fleeing the famine

begged at the door of your family home—

their dead son wrapped in a cloth.

After feeding them, your mother offered

to help bury the child. But they had a plan

To eat him later. Quickly, your mother

Emptied the kitchen into their sacks.

Were you worried she might give them all

The food? I’ve never been hungry enough

To give outside of convenience. Your Holiness,

If I buy the first round, I expect the second


To be on you. I’ve kept a tally of my good

Deeds as profit. I pray the mala for others

To see I’m holy— Black Magic, isn’t it

The preliminary practice: to always take

No matter what I gave, I’d get more.

Your Holiness, if your enemy is with you

Always, even in the mandala—a sphere

With golden knobs osculating the syllables

Of a rainbow, light breaching a hell mouth

No painter can fill, then, Your Holiness,

Help me relate to you. What are your cravings?

Surely, you have them unless the body,

As an erotic congress of the spirit,

Becomes enlightened within the mind.

To eat one’s only begotten. A desperate


Resort in myth, famine, or war,

Silver is traded for bread, gold for water—

My mom talked about the End Times

Like they were tomorrow as she made breakfast.

Whoever would need to eat their child

Had already rendered unto Mao what is Mao’s.


John-Michael Bloomquist


In jail, you’re either black

or Mexican, and if you’re white

you’re in the Klan, I say to David

on my first day in jail class.

Our teacher has asked us to talk

about the stereotypes.

I am light hearted, hoping he’ll laugh

and see I’m not serious.

He tells me he doesn’t have

any, but he clenches his fist

like he’s ready. You see that? he says,

pointing to a poke and stick

tattoo of a burning cross

on the dorsal of his hand—

when I turned fourteen

my uncle did this.



John-Michael Bloomquist


I feel like we just popped your cherry, Greg says—

this is our first meal

together. They asked me to stay for dinner

and the guards agree to feed me too—

chicken spaghetti and string beans

with a chocolate chip cookie

and two pieces of white bread—

they tell me, the food here is better

than almost anywhere else

they’ve been. In other prisons


the 2,500 calories

arrive as a nutrition loaf, a gruel mash

of meat, potatoes, eggs, and syrup

baked together and served


once a day. The first disciples

of Christ broke bread,

not crackers or wafers. This white Wonder

Bread is thin as the new testament,

and they show me how to stuff it

with the noodles by folding it in my hands

so I can have a taco instead.

We are reading prayers from Rilke and Rumi,

and so we are praying, and so the meal has been blessed

by the great tower and we become the widening circle

at this table filled with yellow trays.


The only one who doesn’t eat is Tyler, red eyed

and standing at the doorway— last week,

his wife was shot in a bad deal

and he found out when it was broadcast

on the news from the TV—

that stays on the same channel

all day and is only turned off six hours a night.

When the killer was caught,

she was placed in the detox cell next door—

eight inches of cement dividing them.


Tyler doesn’t speak much

except to bang on the wall

that divides him from his wife’s

killer to forgive her

and forgive her


and forgive.