A Guide for the Outside:
A Rehabilitated Inmate's Book of Helpful Hints
for Life After Prison

  1. Repeat daily: I am a moral and law-abiding citizen. I am worthy of Jesus’s eternal grace and salvation.

  2. Floss.

  3. Gaze across the supper table at the face of your woman, her skin gone wavy and mottled like sky through a dirty window.

  4. When people ask about your previous incarceration, refrain from using slang terms such as “pen,” “Big House,” or “clink.” Say “State Men’s Correctional Facility and Rehabilitation Center” instead.

  5. Take your woman dancing. Afterward, sit in a scarred booth and feed her damp, flaccid French fries with your nicotine-stained fingers.

  6. Smile!

  7. Remember what Jesus has taught you: You can only keep a righteous motherfucker down so long.

  8. Change underwear daily.

  9. Don’t make no promises your broke-down, dragged-out, state-penitentiary-ass can’t keep.

  10. Drive out past the hog farms and rigs, the land that is nobody’s bitch, feel something deep in you gone and starved-out like a mongrel dog tied to a stake.

  11. When meeting a potential employer, look him/her in the eye, grasp his/her hand firmly, and speak in a clear, well-modulated voice.

  12. Don’t leave your works by the sink where your kids can get to them.

  13. Take solace in His resurrection: One bad-ass S.O.B. who just wouldn’t stay dead.

  14. Buy a Paint-By-Numbers Kit to keep your hands busy.

  15. Wait out on the trailer steps and flick your ash on the scalded grass as dusk gathers like a balled-up fist, look down the long road for your woman’s car, wonder what could be keeping her.


* * *



Could I even tell how it was,
his hip shoved on mine against the wall, my hands
shaking, had I ever touched him
in some other life, was his skin
always so hot beneath the shirt;

Could I touch him even beneath the skin,
shaking, my hand against the wall
of his hip, had I ever
been his shirt in some other life,
was I always so hot for a shove;

Could I tell him to make it even,
my hip shoved against the wall
of his hands, shaking, had I always
been so hot in another life, the skin
under his touch;

Could I even tell his hip from my hand,
shaking, had he ever touched me in some
other life, was his shirt always
a wall against my hand,
could he shove me under


* * *


The Dopplegangers of Slasher Films

Here is the scene where they’re pulling
the ransacked bodies from the car,
the sunset a spreading bruise

like the woman’s punched-out eye.
Here is the lipstick, here is the dress,
here are the small betrayals going off

like hand grenades, here is the body
bent double over the toilet bowel filled
with blood. Here is the woman

throwing back pints of the Two-fer-Tuesdays swill
as men’s eyes slide over her
like overripe meat over hooks,

and here is the scene, at last, of awaiting
the lover on a country road—killing
the scorched out engine, watching

the roach clip skyline, thinking of pulling his hands
to your white-hot throat and what
could be keeping him

Robyn Art’s recent poems have appeared in Slope, The Hat, Conduit, Slipstream, Gulf Coast, The New Delta Review, Wicked Alice, The Burnside Review, and She received Pushcart Finalist honors in 2003, and has received grants from the Vermont Studio Center and the Jentel Arts Foundation. She is the author of the poetry manuscript, The Stunt Double In Winter, which was selected as a Finalist for the 2004 Kore Press First Book Award and the 2005 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. Her chapbook, Degrees of Being There, was released by Boneworld Press in May 2003. A second chapbook, No Longer A Blonde, is forthcoming from Boneworld Press in 2006. Her book-length poem, Vestigial Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, will be published in 2006 by Dancing Girl Press as part of a limited-edition chapbook series. Currently she lives in Brooklyn and teaches English, Literature, and Creative Writing at Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, and Felician College.