Sunday Stew: On a Young Man Writing at King County Juvenile Detention Center

by M.S Johnson (Painting, Some Demonstrators Waved From Their Cell, by Lauren Luna)


A kid in juvie knows

old and dead are not the same –

old is not dead yet;


what it’s like to live

amid an upturned orchard,

broken limbs, torn roots,


rampant bulldozers

having plowed his homeland under

as no righteous god would ask,


his mother lost,

needle in a burn pile,

his leg, bullet-grazed;


knows enough to feel

gangbanging’s gotten old,

knows it’s not yet dead,


but not how to start

an orchard,how scion joins

rootstock, what graft works best,


just that he needs to;

which neighbor to ask- someone,

he knows, he must trust.


It may or may not

be someone he knew, even

the same god, or me,


the neighbor who knows

nothing but orchards, not god,

not what needs writing,


that he’s counting on

to tell him why he’s here, why

choose old over dead,


help him find live words

to describe the death he left,

knows needs outliving.


That he sees his word

matters, splices in a bud,

pits hope against long odds:


odds I long will yield.