Edward Ji was awarded an Honorable Mention in Poetry in the 2018 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. On September 13, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Break Out: Voices from the Inside.

The Storm

January 2nd, 2017,
5 A.M. in the shower, our power fails.
Wet and naked and dark,
We scream.

The sky Frankensteins over our red castle,
Like it’s at war with itself
Five bolts at once, playing bright notes,
Left-right, from white chapel-steeple
To black guard-tower,
Horseshoes and snipers, race-lines
Five mile long.

They herd us out,
Stairs by flashlight, scrotums dripping.
The wind swirls,
Hot and Cold together.
They pop our cage-doors with a pry bar.
They count our faces, our bunks, our feet.
They are afraid too.
Radios and keys and voices.

Now I write, by lightning-light,
Storm-flicker, no-thunder,
Only silence.

Heavy panes, pitter-patter.
Zeus-fingers climb, one two three.
Some strands red, God knows why.
He is here, in hell’s veins.
Dance sky dance.

Like the clouds are killing each other:
Battleships, anvils, Jesus Christ.
Blind with awe, I cannot sleep,
Beholding worlds within worlds, afire.

Virgin thunder, rifle shot–
Split-second sculptures, scabrous red.
We all watch, silent as a church,
As brightness gives way to rain and gray.
I’m losing the muse now,
Guess I’ll retire
My pencil.
I stop
When it becomes more
About the writing than the seeing.