Ode to My Prison

This morning I read about a couple arrested
………. for selling hundreds of tickets to heaven,
which they said were made from pure gold
………. and all you have to do is hand it over to St. Peter
and you are ushered into paradise. TitoWatts,
………. the mastermind of this scheme, told the police
Jesus gave him the tickets in the parking lot
………. behind the KFC and told him to sell them
so he could pay Stevie, an alien Tito met at a bar,
………. to take him to a planet made of drugs.
“You should arrest Jesus,” said Tito. “I’ll wear a wire
………. and set him up.” His wife agreed they both
wanted to leave Earth, and I know how she feels,
………. because most newspaper stories are such a bummer–
the sexcapades, the lying, the Russians–so Jesus, where
………. is my golden ticket? Not that I’m all that keen
on going to heaven, but I would like to go to Vietnam
………. and Cambodia, though I guess a travel agent
could set that up for me, and I’m always fantasizing
………. about dropping in on Haydon’s immortal dinner
and eavesdropping on Keats and Wordsworth or spending
………. a fortnight in London in 1601, seeing Shakespeare
as Hamlet’s father’s ghost, taking in the general squalor,
………. and maybe picking up some manuscripts
from the printing house floor, tucking them in my farthingale,
………. and then taking off to Chawton Cottage to stalk
Jane Austen for a while, though in that dress it’s going to be hard
………. to go incognito, so maybe I should wear black jeans,
and you may be forgiven for thinking that I’ve touched down
………. on that planet of drugs, but who needs them
really when your mind can spin out its own delirium,
………. a dream here, a phantasmagoria there, and right now
I’m fixated on Tito wired to bust Jesus, and doesn’t it seem
………. sometimes as if we’re hanging around the KFC
waiting for something supernatural to happen, not Jesus,
………. but maybe Walt Whitman walking to New Orleans
with his brother, a cloud of words crowding out Stevie
………. and the other aliens as Walt fuels his own dream
of America where we’re looking after each other rather
………. than grubbing for all the moolah we can stuff
up our backsides, though a friend of my sister’s says that Earth
………. is an alien penal colony, and we’re all doing time
for crimes against the universe, so I guess Stevie’s a rogue
………. guard in the Florida penitentiary, and sometimes
my body does seem like a prison of sprains and back pain,
………. my mind like the trenches at Verdun–the mud
and bombs–yet when the war is over, I’m still alive,
………. seem to have all my limbs, every cup of tea
is ambrosia, and if that’s not enough, it’s May, jasmine
………. and roses are blooming, my heart clambering
over the clouds as if on wings, and I can’t help but think
………. of Solzhenitsyn looking back on his years in the gulag,
and saying “Bless you, my prison, for having been in my life.”

Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby is the author of six books of poems, most recently Bird Odyssey (2018) and On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (2014), both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from her new manucript, Holoholo, which is all odes. Other odes in the book have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and The New Yorker.
Barbara Hamby

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Author: Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby is the author of six books of poems, most recently Bird Odyssey (2018) and On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (2014), both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from her new manucript, Holoholo, which is all odes. Other odes in the book have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and The New Yorker.