Jason Centrone was awarded an Honorable Mention 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.

If you know the look—

the math of light uninterrupted—

(or how it is you describe it—

   no need to cram our losses into a

single vacuum)

if you know the glare—light from out

suffusing a freshly emptied room—

nook with a ladder-back chair

   slid into its table for good,

I’m sorry, and I’m sorry

now that empty means no one

   or one

       no longer sorting

fast at the room’s undressed window

gradually, a thousand pieces

   into molecular strands

      of the big picture—oh,

this sort of empty, I am sorry

now that the space isn’t vacant,

only feels as much

(or little) and there is this

     look of the light which

  by its luminous flux


  unrestricted off all

     interior planes—

     like an            uncle

   shaved                his

forty year moustache—by this

unusually glib incandescence,

I am reminded

(or couldn’t we both

  1. be) how one person

(rest one person’s soul) has backed


                    out of the kingdom—

Trojan Horse, but

in reverse and bellied with

a tired,

   a most laconic soldiery—

it’s radiant days that

   you and I, we’re

beaten by the look—this stabbing

brightness in its place.

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