You know the feeling of interdimensional travel,
that poppy seed of recognition you get when
you think you know someone or you know
the person but can’t remember how?
They say, for the West, widespread wildfires
spread across thousands of acres for months,
choking the valleys where all the people are
with smoke and ash and particulates you can’t
filter out, is the new normal. Early
mornings, driving into work, I can’t tell
whether the red sun is the moon or the red
moon is the sun. I must be getting good at
confusing the source of light and warmth
for the body that catches it, or does it reject it?
I’ll mistake the father wheeling a cart full of off-
brand sodas and frozen breakfast sausage
for a student I have in prison. I’ll momentarily
see the kid at my gym rebounding his friend’s
missed layup and know it’s a student I have
in prison. I’ll slipup the profile of the man
crossing the street to dig through a dumpster
for a student I have in prison. The resting wings
of a man’s moustache dripping espresso foam
resemble the more meager whiskers a kid
I have in class in prison is trying to grow
and maybe this is his future, maybe this is not
a stranger living his life as one would without
fat, goateed white men muttering
about when he’s allowed to piss. Maybe
this is him, then, but now, reading a free copy
of the paper, waiting for his bagel
to finish toasting. Maybe the barbed wire
and the modern genius sociopath who invented it
don’t exist and maybe this is this kid I have in class
in prison who confided in me that during lunch
he had a phone call with his main girl. She passed
her mucus plug this morning, could begin labor
any day, and his mom’s in Atlanta visiting
family so no one’s around to take her to the hospital.
Maybe he’s here, but not here, briefly
forgiven for whatever were his wrong-doings,
taking solace from the terror of the thought
of being in prison when his girl gives birth
alone at their apartment. Maybe this is all
the freedom he’ll find before that happens.


Living in Oregon but raised in Massachusetts, Michael Zinkowski teaches English and Writing to incarcerated high school and college students. He is a published poet and writer who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Greensboro and a BA from Syracuse University in English & Textual Studies and Psychology. His poetry has been published in River River, Twyckenham Notes, The Greensboro Review, and others.