I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.O,
and made my manic statement,
telling off the state and president, and then
sat waiting sentence in the bull pen
beside a Negro boy with curlicues of marijuana in his hair.
— Robert Lowell, “Memories of West Street and Lepke”
Mind-blown from maximum jolts
at Central Prison and outlying county gun camps,
shackled State felons, in felon brown,
huddle in the bullpen,
a caged room of church pews, awaiting process
into Honor Grade units across North Carolina.
Among them lounges the shade of Robert Lowell –
foggy, white as the Mayflower, goggled
in heavy black spectacles, snowy hair
spiriting about him like “curlicues
of marijuana.” At the sound
of his blue-blooded Boston name –
Robert Traill Spence Lowell II – he rises
fettered with the patrician air of Caligula
tripping in his chains as if to his writing chair
to be mug-shot against the red felt
convict backdrop, a cameo
of numbers sprayed across his breast.
Waving a smoking Lucky,
dark eyes mirroring the manic glitter
of vermouth, he invokes
the Holy Ghost, blesses his fellow yard-birds
in a flaming hail of Gatling couplets.
They merely glance at him –
another Jailhouse poet, drafting
one more season of the manacle,
his final sentence on the State: Parnassus,
a road camp down-east, bedded
in the Green Swamp, where lurk
bear and panther. The last red wolf,
scribbles stealthily in his brack and fen,
never consenting to be seen again.