David A. Pickett was awarded honorable mention in Poetry in the 2020 Prison Writing Contest.

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

This piece is also featured in Breathe Into the Ground, the 2020 Prison Writing Awards Anthology.


I was really something, once. 
One of the men with fair
hair and strong jaw, golden
boy, jet pilot, crackerjack,
“Gene the Machine.”
I always wanted to fly.

When we lifted off
in the arms of Atlas,
ten million pounds of thrust
sat seven men on my chest.
We reached the sky:
the only flowing blood
in a quarter million miles.
Tiny metal womb falling
through unended dark,
captured by gray cratered
daughter Moon, Earth heart torn free.

I was the man, the lucky one,
strapped on leaden boots, suit,
climbed down the ladder
(a ladder! on the Moon!)
and set my feet in lunar dust.

In my dreams I still float
off that last rung,
land on ancient gray crust,
raising motes that glitter
in the sun, and fall.

That scarred face rises
every month of my life.
I make my slow way
down the steps
to my front lawn;
my hands shake
as I open the mailbox. Still,
that stone floats over me,
pale behind blue sky.