Daffodils that come before the swallow dares...
Either I wasn’t thinking, or I thought
I could cross under the prison window
on my way to the town library and not be
a wound to those men, a flower to pluck.
My teacher intended no crime, assigning
the term paper on Shakespeare’s Troilus
and Cressida, but enjoyed my discomfort
as he explained the racy puns. I found
Shakespeare guilty of not even trying
to make Cressida sympathetic, as if she
had been false for no reason but her own
pleasure—conniving, slutty, a pair of hips
sashaying past soldiers gathered around
their small fires—as if a girl with no
currency but her body, wouldn’t know
how thin the line between wager and ruin.
Memory’s crime? The way it falters,
seduced by feeling, more fiction than fact.
Was there a walkway beside the prison?
Locked up long enough, a memory will
reenter the world hesitant, unsure.
Could there really have been open windows,
men calling out, reaching through the bars?—
young men, so not unlike the inmates
in my prison poetry class I just asked
to make metaphors for the daffodils
I brought in. “Periscope up!” one calls out.
“Testing, testing,” another says, holding
his fragile mic, and I don’t know what
to say, when a third, as if taunted, pained,
by the mute reveille of these bright trumpets,
asks, “Why are you doing this to us?”
Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection of poetry is House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, winner of the Four Lakes Prize). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and has taught literature and writing in prisons in Virginia and Maine. She was Poet Laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.