Two white mass murderers sit in their prison cell. One is reading a poetry journal on the bottom bunk. The other is bouncing a balled-up pair of socks against the wall on the upper bunk.

“Hey, Mitch, check this shit out.”

“Oh, Gary, not another poem!”

“You want me to read it to you?”

“Just give me the damn thing.”

Gary hands the poetry journal up to Mitch, who hooks his long greasy brown hair behind his ears and begins to read.

He shakes his head and says, “What the actual fuck?”

“I know, right?”

“This fucking guy stole your story!”


“I mean, he changed the city and the number of victims, but still, it’s obviously you.”


“And is this one of those…whatyacallits?”

“It’s called ‘persona voice,’ dumbass!”

“I only got a GED, Gary.”

Gary reaches up and grabs the poetry journal.

“He’s writing in my voice! He’s pretending to be me!”

“Shit! Can he do that? Is that even legal?”

“Unethical as hell, that’s for sure. I mean, it’s like he’s erased me!”

“Be strong, Gary. Go to your safe space.”

“It’s just hurtful, you know?”

“I know. That’s the way these cis asshole writers are. Is he white?”


“I fucking knew it.”

“Jesus, this is terrible. Look here, I would never say, ‘the bullets sprayed the air like splintered metal mosquitoes.’ Jesus, that’s horrible! Does this guy even have an MFA?”

“Stupid mo-fo!”

“Hmmmm….‘their guts flew out like stillborn squid’…that’s not bad…but wait, he says it was an M-16. It was an AR-15, dumb-fuck! AR-FUCKING-FIFTEEN! This guy is literally rewriting history.”

“You think this piece of human waste got paid for this?”

“Does a one-legged duck get a backache?”

“How much, do you think? Like $25?”

“It’s the principle of the thing! He’s getting paid for my hard work! He’s using my personal experiences; he might as well be pulling my hair and using me like a pony ride! I’m just tired Mitch. So tired.”

“You’re bald, Gary.”

“It’s called a metaphor. Educate yourself.”

“I say we smoke him. If he won’t get woked, he’ll get smoked. Hey, I’m a poet, too!”

“Stay in your lane, Mitch, for God’s sake. Besides, we’re fucking locked up, genius.”

“Yeah, but we got rec Friday, and the Mouse owes me one, so we could use his password and get on the Internet.”

“Yeah, yeah, not a bad idea…get him where it really counts!”

“On Facebook!”

“Facebook? Facebook is for losers. We’re going straight to Twitter.”

“Twitter? Shit, you’re really mad!”

“He’ll never know what hit him!”

“But what if E. Kirstly Anderson or Su Hwung get wind of it?”

“Ah, you’re not afraid of them, are you?”

“Well, they can get pretty mean…and they cuss a lot. You don’t want to get cancelled!”

“Hell, they should be on our side. I’ve been appropriated! I’ve quite clearly been unmitigatedly appropriated. This is a form of violence! This is an attack! My soul has a weal!”

“It’s hard to tell whose side they’re on. I mean, what if they block me and then keep talking shit about me? You know how much I hate that.”

“Grow a pair, Mitch.”

“What if they start using AAVE? I had nightmares for a week after the last time.”

“Are you with me or not?”

“I’m with you, Gary.”

“Fine, get that password.”


“And see if you can get some ice-cold Cokes, too. I wanna be all jacked up.”

Gary goes back to reading the poetry journal and Mitch goes back to bouncing the balled-up socks against the wall.

“Check out this guy’s author photo,” Gary says. “What a pussy! Nice haircut, dude. Did your mama pick out that outfit for you?”

Their laughter echoes off the walls of their chamber.


The next day, Gary is up bright and early, standing at the cell door in his orange clothes.

“I’m off to my poetry group, Mitch,” he says. “You sure you don’t want to come?”

“I’m okay, Gary. I need some me-time.”

“Suit yourself.”

There is a loud CLUNK and the metal door opens.

“How we doing today, George?” he says to the large prison guard standing outside the door.

“Can’t complain,” George says.

“I’m off to my poetry group.”

“Break a leg.”

Gary walks down the cement hallway past the other cell doors, some open, some closed, in his beige rubber slippers. He’s six foot four and wide as a bathroom stall. White, bald, and substantially tattooed. He holds some loose papers in his hand. When he enters a small commons room, two other inmates are already sitting at a metal table on metal chairs. Both white, in their thirties. Both in the same orange outfits.

“Hey, Stinky Marty,” Gary says. “I see we have a new member.”

“Morning, Gary. I see your mother still dresses you,” Stinky Marty says. “This is Pete from C-block. He just got in last week.”

“Hi, Pete. As you probably know, I am the founder of this group and current moderator-in-chief. May I inquire how you came to be with us today?”

“Well,” Pete says, “I was at this club and she told me she was 18…”

“TMI, Pete,” Gary says. “I mean, how did you hear about our poetry group?”

“Oh. I saw it on the bulletin board.”

“Glad to know word is spreading,” Gary says. “Did you familiarize yourself with the group rules?”

“Yes, sir,” Pete says.

“Just to be sure, I’d like to go over them,” Gary says.

He puts his sheaf of papers on the table and sits down.

“First of all, this group is about support and inclusion. It is designed to be a place where poets can read their work in a safe and accepting atmosphere. No snark, no condescension or abuse of any kind will be tolerated. No gratuitous sex or violence. No homophobia, transphobia, or racism. No violence toward animals. Three strikes and you’re out. Do you understand and agree?”

“I do,” Pete says.

“Okay, sign here.” Gary slides a paper and pencil across the table. “This will automatically sign you up for the newsletter and enter you into the monthly giveaway.”

Pete signs the paper and slides it back.

Gary looks at it. “You didn’t list your pronouns.”

“Oh,” Pete says. “Just put ‘normal’ there, I guess.”

“He/him?” Gary says.

“That’s fine.”

“Okay. Mine and Stinky Marty’s are also he/him. Just to let you know, if you want to change your pronouns at any time for whatever reason, that is perfectly fine. No questions asked.”

“He might be changing them in a few weeks,” Stinky Marty says.

“I hope so,” Gary says. “We need some variety. But it’s hard to get people to participate these days.”

“Many people are still reeling from the pandemic,” Stinky Marty says. “They don’t want to leave their cells.”

“Yeah. I just want life to get back to normal.”

“Slowly but surely,” Stinky Marty says.

“Okay, Pete,” Gary says. “So you think you’re a poet?”

“I’ve written a few poems,” Pete says.

“Been published anywhere?” Gary says.

“A couple places,” Pete says.

“I myself have had poems placed in Mom’s Basement Review and Puke Your Guts Out,” Gary says. “I believe Stinky Marty just had a poem placed recently, thanks to some generous critique and rewriting here in the group. What was the name of that zine, Marty?”

“Nana’s Tits.”

“Congratulations again on that one. That’s a tough market. I forget, do they charge a submission fee?”

“Only $35.”

“That’s not too bad. They do have to recuperate their costs, you know. What about you, Pete? What journals have you been in?”

“Paris Review, Rattle, Ploughshares…”

“Never heard of them,” Gary says.

“There’s a guy on my cellblock who’s called Ploughshares,” Stinky Marty says.

“Did he finally get back from the med ward?” Gary says.

“Yeah, he’s back. Still walking a little funny, but he’ll be okay.”

“Good, good,” Gary says. “Okay, shall we get into it then?”

Stinky Marty produces a wadded-up paper from his pocket and flattens it out onto the metal table.

“Just wrote a new one last night,” he says.

“Excellent!” Gary says. “You didn’t bring a copy for the rest of us?”

“Sorry. I ran out of paper.”

“I gave you a whole ream last month!” Gary says.

“A guy needs more than one ream a month, Gary,” Stinky Marty says, winking.

“Get your mind out of the gutter. You’ve already got two strikes. Okay, let’s hear what you got.”

Stinky Marty clears his throat and reads his poem.

The lilacs bristled in the morning breeze
as the doves whistled on the fence
and my love stayed in the distance
waiting, waiting, waiting
for the sun
and I saw her beauty
because I have good vision
and don’t need glasses

Stinky Marty looks up with a proud face.

“Stinky Marty, you are really making progress. I am literally stunned at this new piece.

It’s very courageous and brave. Bravo.”

“Thanks Gary. Means a lot.”

“Anything you’d like to add, Pete?”

“Oh, that’s the end?” Pete says.

“Usually when the poet stops reading, that is an indicator that the poem has come to its


“Right, right,” Pete says. “I guess I was hoping for a little more. Besides, aren’t you wearing glasses, Stinky Marty?”

Stinky Marty and Gary look at each other and roll their eyes.

“Um, Pete,” Gary says, “we’re trying to build a community here.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?” Gary says. “I mean, wow. The poet is not always the ‘I’ narrator in the poem. This is called ‘dissonance.’ It’s okay to admit that you don’t understand a poem because of ignorance.”

“Right, right,” Pete says.

“I thought the bit about the glasses was a highlight of the poem, Stinky Marty,” Gary says.

“Thanks, Gary. It really came from the heart.”

“Pete,” Gary says, “I can see we’ve got some work to do. Allow me to enlighten you. Perhaps you have heard of the poetry philosophy that says ‘write what you know.’”

“I’ve heard of it,” Pete says.

“Oh, he’s heard of it! Hear that, Stinky Marty? Well, Pete, ‘write what you know’ is some of the worst advice that was ever given. If you ever want to improve your writing, you need to let that sink in.”

“Right, right,” Pete says.

“Stinky Marty has mastered the valuable technique of ‘writing what you don’t know.’ I don’t think he even knows what a lilac is, do you, Stinky?”

“Not a clue,” Stinky says.

“It’s a flower,” Pete says.

“Who are you, Martha Stewart?” Stinky says.

“Calm down, Stinky,” Gary says.


Gary makes a mark on a piece of paper.

“Pete,” he says, “or should I say, Martha, that’s one strike against you. Intentionally hurtful comments are prohibited.”

“I was just trying to…” Pete says.

“I know what you were trying to do: belittle the other poets in the group! This ain’t right- wing Twitter, buddy.”

“Right, right.”

“I mean,” Gary smiles at Stinky Marty, “this poem might not be good enough to make it into…what was it, Prattle?”

“Rattle,” Pete says.

“Rattle,” Gary says, making finger quotes. “But Stinky’s poem shows serious craft and devotion to the art, and to learning. You do agree that learning is a good thing, don’t you, Encyclopedia?”

“Of course.”

“Excellent. Perhaps you’d like to share one of your masterpieces with the group.”

“They took my notebook when they arrested me.”

“So you’ve showed up unprepared? Sigh. Just figured you’d listen and make fun of the other poets without contributing? Is that what your plan was?”

“No, I mean, uh, I…”

“Here!” Gary slides a couple pieces of blank paper to Pete. “You owe me. We’ve only got the one pencil, and this week it’s Stinky’s turn to use it.”

“They took my pen, too, with my notebook,” Pete says.

“Write with your own blood like the rest of us when we don’t have a pencil! Can you believe this guy?”

“Greenhorn,” Stinky Marty says.

“Just don’t write with your own shit, or anybody else’s shit, either,” Gary says. “We had to kick Big Tom out for that.”

“How’s Big Tom doing?” Stinky Marty says.

“Still writing those Bukowski ripoffs, probably,” Gary says. “He’ll never grow up.”

“I like Bukowski,” Pete says.

“OMG!” Gary says. “Another Bukowski clone, great. Do you have any other poetic influences besides a useless drunk who kicks his girlfriend on the couch?”

“Helen Bishop, Gary Snyder, Mather Schneider…”

“What in the fuck is this guy talking about?” Stinky Marty says.

“No idea,” Gary says. “Maybe he’s still in shock. Hopefully he’ll come to his senses in a few weeks, or end up in the psych ward.”

A hubbub of activity and noise begins in the hallways.

“It’s lunch time,” Stinky Marty says.

“Well, since Martha here bogarted all our time, I guess I’ll have to save my poem for next week. It probably needs a little tinkering anyway. Group dismissed.”

They stand up and shuffle out in an orderly fashion toward the lunch area.


When Friday finally comes, Mitch and Gary use Mouse’s password and feel quite giddy as they sit in front of the computer in the little room off of D-block. They sip their Cokes.

“Okay,” Gary says, “What’s that asshole poet’s handle again?”

“@Outlawpoetinyourpants,” Mitch says, reading from the bio in the journal. “It says he lives in Vermont with his girlfriend and their three cats.”

“Isn’t that sweet. Can we stay focused please?”

“Sorry,” Mitch says. “I forgot you hate cats.”

“I don’t hate cats. I’m allergic to them. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. We don’t choose the bodies we’re born with, Mitch.”

Gary types in the handle and it pops right up. The profile picture is an anime sword fighter. He has 1,309 followers.

“Let’s see what this motherfucker does when he’s not appropriating other people,” Gary says.

“Jesus,” Mitch says. “He’s put a link in to his poem where he pretends to be you. Does this guy have no shame?”

“He’s fucking pinned it!”

“It’s got 46 Likes!”

“What a bunch of losers. Look, there’s a comment.”

Gary clicks on the comment and reads it out loud.

“This is the most stunning and brave poem I have read in ages! Totally real and dark, wow! Congratulations!”

Gary’s face turns red.

“Take it easy, Gary. Remember your blood pressure.”

“I’m literally shaking,” Gary says.

“What are you going to say? You gotta say something.”

“I know, I know, give me a minute. I’m thinking.”

Then he types, “Steal other people’s stories much?” He hesitates for a second and adds, “Lol.”

He hits “Reply.”

“That ought to get his attention,” Mitch says.

Gary reads the next post on the poet’s page.

“What’s all this shit about the truckers?” he says.

“I heard about it,” Mitch says. “A bunch of Nazi truck drivers have taken over Canada and are killing old ladies and children for sport.”

“What’s the world coming to?”

“It’s all going to hell.”

“At least when we killed people we had good reason,” Gary says.

“Exactly. And we never killed no old ladies.”

“Well, there was that one at Walgreens.”

“Ok, one.”

“Hold on, @outlawpoetinyourpants responded!”

“Omygodomygod! My palms are sweating! Feel them!”

“That’s okay, I believe you, Gary.”

Gary reads the response out loud: “Troll much? Lol. Try coming out of your mother’s basement once in a while. Lol.”

“This guy is something else,” Mitch says.

“Wow. Just wow.”

“How’s your mother doing anyway?” Mitch says.

“She’s okay. She’ll be out on parole in a couple of years.”

“That’s good. She did have a nice basement. Remember those parties we used to have down there?”

“Yeah. Good times. Until the fuzz busted in.”

“You gotta tell this guy off. Don’t pull any punches.”

“Take it easy, Mitch. Don’t want to lower ourselves to their level.”

Gary begins to type: “At least I know the difference between an M-16 and an AR-15. Lol. Besides, I don’t live in my mom’s basement, I live in your mom’s basement.”

He hits “Reply.”

“Oh, you’re bad,” Mitch says.

“There’s no going back now,” Gary says.

“Hey look, Joe Rogan’s trending.”

“Is that anti-vaxxer still allowed a platform? What justice is there in this world when we’re stuck here in the clink and fucking Joe “Horse-Dewormer” Rogan is out there spreading lies every two seconds and putting peoples’ lives at risk?”

“Antifa will get him soon.”

“Thank God for antifa. They’re the only ones who have their heads screwed on straight.”

“What’s Biden and Kamala up to?” Mitch says. “Still cleaning up Trump’s mess?”

“Cleaning up the orange shit-gibbon’s catastrophe will take several lifetimes, I’m afraid.”

“Look at all those people at the Super Bowl! I don’t even see one mask!”

“They’ll all be dead within a week,” Gary says.

“Biden fix the climate yet?”

“Jesus, Mitch, he’s only been in office two years. Give him another 6 and he’ll have it whipped back into shape.”

“@Outlawpoetinyourpants is responding!”

“Damn, does this guy have anything better to do than hang out on Twitter all day?”

Gary reads it out loud: “My mother has been dead for ten years. She was killed in a shooting in Walgreens. Blocking you now.”

“Oh, shit,” Mitch says.

“How was I supposed to know?”

“Yep, he blocked you. You screwed the pooch, Gary.”

“That is ironic as all hell. Maybe I can work this into a poem. Poetry, as you know, is my therapy and my passion. I would literally die if I couldn’t write poetry.”

“Considering you barely avoided the death penalty, that would be kind of funny.”

“You’re a sick man, Mitch.”

“Life comes at you fast,” Mitch says. “And our time’s up anyway.”

“Our time won’t be up for another 20 years yet.”

“I meant, here comes the screw.”

“Oh, shit, and it’s Clyde. You know he voted for Trump, right?”

“Just smile, Gary. Just smile.”