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ALABAMA PRISON ARTS + EDUCATION PROJECT

Kyes Stevens

FOUNDER/DIRECTOR, THE ALABAMA PRISON ARTS + EDUCATION PROJECT

Kyes Stevens is a poet from Waverly, AL who earned her MA in Women’s History and MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College in NY. She is the founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University, and has been teaching poetry and literature in prisons for the past 15 years. She is also a co-leader in the Sustainability Study Abroad program through the College of Human Sciences at Auburn. Her poetry often explores places on the periphery of rural southern lands and peoples.

Through 15 years of teaching poetry in prisons and building the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, I find myself endlessly dwelling on confinement, art and the ability of humans to adapt and survive. I was transfixed by Ramirez when first introduced to his work by Brooke Anderson, and the awe and wonder has not diminished. He hardly spoke with words, Ramirez. He opened a world with his art. I keep thinking, what does he say, inside, to himself, to his family, to his home he cannot return to. These poems are an attempt to answer that.

Martin Ramirez, a Sequence

I. Tracks in Stacks on the Mountain

The crayon fits between

thumb and forefinger

a reign (would) rests there

back and forth razor

back drop flakes of red

down to a pile

snow on the mountain

tracks in stacks

left beside

the black cloud that

disappears in

             back

and forth pull the brush

smooth the flank

tie the reigns to a tree

II. The Horse Had Wings

the horn lights

the path—the earth, it rumbles

I run from here on him

animal stretched

night stretched

to hear bells and chase

dreams

and what becomes of the light

when it moves

in the tunnel

shapes disappearing

I cannot

will not remember

the smell of Mexico

III. El Norte

from here, trains disappear

over mountains toward

invisible lines in the earth

marking like here, the earth

is mark, lines, veined,

given in parts to people

and taken from people

like silence singing from

church

the bells rock back and forth

and hooves distance

dust, memories

I remember her lips

and red

lines drawn like this

down the page

over the edge

to a train

to carry me back

IV. The Horse Does Not Understand the Mountain

it comes and goes

the tunnel

through the mountain

build it round

with red and yellow

flowers the sun the past

trapped behind my eyes

smelling of summer

winds distant from the sea

the arc expands the lines

hard

they will divide this

stop the movement

he stands stuck

frozen in a frame

on a stage

trying to figure

leaving how the cars

go and come

but there is no room

for hooves

to travel the dark

to disappear

in the mountain

V. Painting Is a Memory

the tape is from the ward

the nurse

the paper, scraps from Tomas

from the trash

metal bin

round like an open horn

the bits together

together and paste

glue

spit

oatmeal smeared

hold down paper

down

make it flat to spread

and fill orange lines

frame the horse

the sun sideways

Juana’s fingers knotted

rolling down

that little mountain

eyes in light

glistening, papa

VI. The Object

Into this pocket

the hand finds a tobacco pouch

and the familiar takes

place without much thought

a tight pack tip to end

the pull of the paper

a surround of white

over a gnarled and twisted mix.

The match struck

on this boot bottom

and dusk glows for a moment.

A heavy draw

then lean, the Virgin

of Guadalupe ignites

and I hear children

running, smell tortilla

beans. The match is so tiny

in this hands.

The object of light.

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