Betsy Sholl

Doing Time

Prison poetry workshop
They call me Babe and make a kissing noise
from inside their bars and inside their rage.
Most of them are men, though they act like boys
who’ve played too hard and broken all their toys.
Now they’re trying to break their metal cage.
They yell out Babe, make that loud kissing noise
as if their catcalls mean they have a voice
routines and bells can’t break. “It’s just a phase,”
their parents must have said, when they were boys.
Don’t ask what they’re in for; let them enjoy
their small audience, their short time on stage:
“Hey, Babe, how about—” then that kissing noise.
In class they want to rhyme, their way to destroy
all evidence of anguish on the page.
They can’t bear to remember being boys.
Some study law, some use another ploy,
daydreaming they’ll do time, but never age.
“Hey, Babe” means “kiss off” to that cellblock noise,
to broken men in here since they were boys.

Betsy Sholl
“Doing Time” is from Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009).