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 poetryfortrash.com, a public arts project where you can trade trash for poetry.
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.
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.
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