Chad Rand was awarded the Fielding Dawson Prize in Poetry in the 2022 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.

You are the birdsong, and I am the spoons.

You are the Higgs particle, and I am the

spine of a well-read book. You make the uni-

verse something, and I’m all dog-eared pages.


You are the fox tail, the staple-puller, the

clackety tracks for trains, and the saltlick.


I am the wireless router, applause, the blow-

hole, and the burnt edges of oatmeal cookies.


You are also the basket of raspberries, the

drumbeats off in the distance, the warm

winter coat, the lobster. I’m the dropped

penny, the brown grass where dogs piss, acne

scars, and the rice thrown at weddings.


You’re the southern baptist preacher, all brim-

stone and praise, while I’m the gravel road

outside. Our lovemaking, full of sweat and gospel

and grit. Our embraces, a jackal with a rabbit

in its teeth. Each kiss, a rope that can’t

quite reach the sandstone canyon floor.


What we’ll never be is the lock and the key.

I’m already broke open, and you’re not that

intrusive. Instead, let’s say you’re the leftover

bullet, and I, the empty chamber of the gun.

Purchase Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology here.