Christopher Citro

An Elephant Walks into a McDonald’s

A fter passing through a labyrinth of security barriers and divesting myself of everything but my clothes, I spent a wide-eyed afternoon sitting, with my mouth shut, on a chair in the corner of the huge room, a space which reminded me of nothing else so much as my high school gym. There a core group of prisoners, who regularly took part due to their good behavior behind bars, were guided by the members of The Living Stage through several hours of meditation, visualizations, music and movement exercises, and a snack lunch of sandwiches and fruit, culminating in a prolonged group improvisation. This started with the men assuming roles such as medicine man, chief hunter, musician, in an imagined African village recently beset by problems. The village headman believed that there was a witch among the villagers, and he and his team of advisers were to attempt to discover the culprit. After this set-up, the men took this idea and ran, working with each other, improvising action and dialogue. “Find out if he was there that night.” “Chief, his brother has something to tell you.” “Where is he? Bring him to me.” After about twenty minutes the director yelled, “Stop!” and a dozen or so men froze like mannequins advertising pale blue jumpsuits.
      This was in the early 1990s, and my girlfriend at the time worked for Living Stage, a well-respected outreach theatre founded in 1966 and based in Washington, DC. In their downtown space, they conducted workshops with physically disabled youngsters, impoverished second graders, and teen mothers. Some of what they did was more than a little daffy, such as playing old Joni Mitchell tunes to pregnant thirteen- year-olds from the projects, but much of it was useful and effective. I was able to travel to Washington, DC, and tag along on one of Living Stage’s biweekly visits to Lorton Prison, a maximum security facility for convicted men from the beleaguered streets of Washington, DC. The theatre had been visiting the prison for years as part of one of their more successful outreach programs. Well-behaved prisoners were allowed to take part in a four-hour-long weekday afternoon of exercises.
      “OK, now we’re going to shift the setting. Keep the character and personality you’ve each been playing, but instead of being in an African village, you are all members of a street gang in downtown DC. You’re in your hideout, and the gang leader, the former village headman, believes that a spy has infiltrated the gang. This is someone who has informed on you all to the police and resulted in some of you being arrested and sent to prison. You’re afraid more arrests are going to come. The leader and his closest men are going to try to resolve this situation by finding out who this person is. Now, go!”
      And suddenly, as I sat watching from behind the basketball sidelines painted there on the gym floor, convicts role-played a situation disarmingly similar to one from the lives most of them must have led before incarceration. This is something to pay attention to, I thought to myself. This is not television or Hollywood. This is real, or at least as real as I’m ever likely to see, being acted out by men who lived the gang life.
      As the gang leader went about interrogating man after man, discussions often resulted in a rapid crescendo of anger. The man being interrogated would pull out his gun (making a gun shape with his fingers) and hold it up, sideways, aimed downward at the head of his interrogator. Immediately, almost too quickly to see, everyone else in the gang, whether they were involved in the particular interrogation or not, would fly up and aim their guns, their fingers, at the man. Over and over, as each interrogation reached a crisis, this would repeat—the victim would pull out his fingers and immediately everyone else would surround him with theirs, a sudden porcupine of upraised elbows and down-pointed finger pistols, and the action would freeze for a few seconds all on its own. Each time the near-violence would eventually defuse and action would continue in another direction. From my vantage point along the sidelines, this rhythmic movement appeared to me like nothing else but dance.
      I remember many times that afternoon trying not to cry at the humanity of what I was seeing, at the palpable sense of these men as men, individuals with thoughts, enthusiasms, uncertainties, and sweat, instead of as “prisoners,” some sort of alternate species to human beings. And at the end, I failed. As the meeting wound up, and the Living Stage members dressed to leave, doors along the back of the gym were opened to allow the theater group to load props and supplies into their van. As the winter light poured in, we were treated to the sight of a late February snowfall. Even the grey fields of dead grass and barbed wire fences looked a little pretty behind the undulating white curtain, and several prisoners talked, almost offhandedly, about wishing they could go outside, knowing, of course, that they could not. Then the mandatory theatrical goodbye hugs commenced, and I was included in the process, even though up until then, as instructed, I’d not engaged in any of the activities and not uttered even a word. An intense, neat-looking man in glasses, who had reminded me all afternoon of a young Malcom X, approached me, smiling, and said, “Can I give you a hug, too, Mister Quiet Dude?” I gladly accepted and then stepped out into the new falling snow, wiping my eyes with my mittens.
      I looked up Lorton Prison online recently and learned it was founded in 1910, and in 1917 was temporary home to 168 Washington, DC, suffragettes. In a Washington Post article, I read that by the mid- 1990s, when I’d visited, it was considered outdated and badly overcrowded, home to some 7,300 inmates. The prison was shut down in 2001, the same year Living Stage ceased operations, and has recently begun to be transformed into, among other things, a golf course, a sports complex, and an arts center, partially funded by ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who will dance at the upcoming opening ceremonies. In the middle of the article, entitled “Lorton Prison Reformed Into Arts Center: Workhouse to Feature Studios, Galleries, Performance Space,” I read: “The gala will be in a former prison gym, where organizers dream of adding heating and air-conditioning and Atheater seats. For now the digs will remain rustic, although a dance floor was bought to protect Baryshnikov’s toes.”

A few months into a PhD program in philosophy at the University of Kansas in the late 1990s, I realized that maybe someone who spends all of his time reading and writing poetry, to the exclusion of just about everything else, should perhaps think of making a living in the field, silly and uncertain as that might be. I stuck the program out for three years, becoming increasingly unhappy, then unhealthy, and finally unhinged.
      I didn’t take any English or creative writing classes at KU since ostensibly I was focused on philosophy, but I did know of a professor who taught in that department. He was one of the very few English professors who took an occasional interest in the local poetry scene, often appearing at the sorts of readings where I spent my evenings when I should have been at home working slowly through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He even came to the punky poetry readings, the ones set in the kinds of bars where one was likely to see a tattooed and pierced barmaid handing a dented can of Schlitz to a tattooed and pierced guy in plastic cowboy boots while Roger Miller crooned “Dang me, dang me, ya ought-a take a rope and hang me, high from the highest treeeee!” from a beat-up record player behind the bar. You’d sometimes see him at these readings, sitting alone at a table in the back, writing in a notebook and munching nuts from a Ziploc bag as a string of nervous-looking teenagers took the stage to read that week’s suicide note, or gangly street people recited fervently rhymed, hip-hop creeds to the death of the ruling plutocracy, and dreadlocked, glow-in-the- dark Kansas farm girls snapped their heads around all urban-style while chanting about their uteri.
      Friends informed me that the quiet professor’s name was Brian Daldorph. So thin he was almost painful to look at, he was a marathon runner and a vegetarian with two daughters in their early teens who’d sometimes, endearingly, accompany him to readings. The few times I saw him read his own poetry, in his British accent, I was impressed by its musicality and the way in which this quiet, diminutive man wrote movingly about outcasts, as well as the lives and jobs of blue collar people.
      I’d see him after a reading as he came up to congratulate my girlfriend on her poems that evening, sometimes inviting her to give him something for his literary journal, The Coal City Review. It wasn’t until I myself was a featured reader at the local arts center one April in 2005—five years after fleeing philosophy, chronic guilt, and panic attacks—that Brian came up afterward to speak to me. We began an occasional email correspondence, culminating in his inviting me to give a reading at the jail outside of town where he taught a creative writing class every other Thursday. I enthusiastically agreed. Apart from once being pulled over one night for driving while intoxicated enough to forget to turn my headlights on, I’d only been behind bars once in my comfortable, middle-class life—back when I’d visited Lorton Prison.

As my February 2006 jail reading approached, Brian asked me to send him the poems I intended to read—“It helps the men to have the poems in front of them, to keep their attention”—preparing for about thirty to forty minutes in all, including time for introductions to each poem. Usually at readings, it was my policy not to talk much about my poems, since on stage, with the eyes of people ricocheting off me, I usually said deeply stupid things. I decided to be brave, though, and to follow the procedures that Brian suggested, so I told him, “No problem,” and sent poems I thought might appeal to people behind bars, even though I had no idea what might appeal to people behind bars. In the end, I settled on a selection of verses about chipmunks, zombies, Zen monks, horses, spaceships, and a married couple who spend their days watching television and dreaming of climbing a glowing blue ladder in their living room, without ever actually doing it.
      Since my car wasn’t running at the time, Brian offered to pick me up the morning of the reading. As he pulled up the driveway, late, in his compact car, I confess I felt a little like Johnny Cash heading for his historic concert at Folsom Prison. I was also more than a little nervous. This was an unaccustomed feeling, brought on mostly by the idea of reading in a prison, and also by a sense of guilt and fear due to a letter I’d gotten the week before from the Kansas Unemployment Bureau. I’d been on unemployment for the last couple months after falling seriously ill and being jettisoned from the travel-heavy job I’d held since leaving grad school. I was supposed to be looking for work each week and hadn’t been. The letter was asking for proof that I had. In my fear and trembling, I thought I just might not be let out of the jail after the reading.
      I used to pass that county jail on my way to work each day. It was just outside of town, along the highway to Kansas City. It stood far back from the road, amid a circle of farmhouses that I imagined were filled with heavily armed farmers just waiting for escaped drunk drivers, alimony deadbeats, and check fraudsters to storm their barn doors looking for hammers to break the chains I knew the inmates would be wearing around their ankles from the prison break films I’d seen. The jail was nearly invisible until one was past it, and even then it didn’t really leap out at once as a jail. It looked more like a corporate headquarters, perhaps for a long distance phone company or health food consortium. 
      In the car, Brian handed me a photocopied packet of poems he’d put together, including some written earlier by the prisoners. Despite my inexperience extemporizing, I hadn’t prepared anything to say as I read my poems; I figured I’d just sort of wing it. (Johnny Cash winged it, no doubt.) At that time the news was filled with stories about rioting in hitherto sedate European cities over cartoons of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper, and about the fact that our own nation’s VP had just shot his friend in the face—winging it seemed the only viable option in such a wide-open world where just about anything could happen, and probably would.
      When we got to the jail, a group of official-looking people chatted while drinking coffee behind the reception desk. We signed in and a man behind the desk took our driver’s licenses, coats, and anything else we had with us and didn’t want to bring in. I asked if I could bring in a tape recorder, with which I’d intended to record my reading (Folsom Prison style), and he smiled and said no. After passing through a bank of metal detectors, we weren’t searched or even patted down. It was clear that they knew Brian well since he’d been teaching there for years, and they seemed to hardly pay us any attention at all. I figured we’d at least be escorted to the room, if not actually forced into a full body search, cavities and all.
      I wouldn’t have been surprised if the jail employees had been a little jumpy, since only four days before, a dangerous inmate at the nearby Lansing Correctional Facility had escaped and was yet to be found. It seemed that the prison’s Safe Harbor Prison Dog Program, run by a non-inmate named Toby Young, had been used for the breakout. Ms. Young brought dogs to the prison to be trained by the inmates, to the mutual benefit of each, presumably. During these visits, she fell in love (or into something) with a twenty-seven-year-old man doing time for a Kansas City carjacking and murder. A trusted prison visitor, she’d smuggled her Significant Inmate out in a dog crate, and together they’d disappeared. It would be another two weeks before the couple was caught holed up in a cabin in Tennessee along with two guns, twenty-five thousand in stolen cash, and a razor and hair dye. I could have had my pockets stuffed with hair dye and the guards would never have noticed.
      After passing the metal detectors, Brian and I stepped into a chamber; one door closed behind us, then the door before us opened,and we were in jail. Silent hallways stretched out to either side. From prison films, I’d expected the interior to be murkily dark and noisy, dirty and inhospitable, but instead it was almost cozy, eerily quiet, well- lit, clean, and free from people, more like the corridors of business hotels on weekday afternoons—empty carpeted halls, the low hum of air conditioners—than a jail. The doors along the hallways were all closed and had huge block numbers painted on them. Brian walked us to the elevator, which took us up a couple floors.
      As we stepped into the room where the reading would take place, a small, smiling man in his early fifties emerged from a glass-walled office just off the classroom and approached us with his hand out. Brian introduced me to Mike Caron, the jail’s program director. Brian had told me Mike was a Vietnam vet who’d tried to go to college to be a teacher after the war but found it all too fake after the weightiness of battle. He ended up working in the penal system, where he’s been ever since.
      Brian and Mike left me alone as they went to get the men from their pods. The classroom had a circle of plastic chairs, the kind with little desks attached, and a few tiny windows, each the size and shape of a loaf of French bread stood on end. You couldn’t fit an arm out of one, but they did let in a little baguette-shaped light. There were a few books on shelves along the walls, including, I was interested to notice, a volume of Salvador Dali paintings that I had at home also. Above the thin, institutional carpeting, there were abstract finger paintings, which made it look a little like an elementary school room, and also a shelf in one corner stacked with yoga mats. I looked around for hidden cameras and didn’t see any. They must be there, I thought.

All of a sudden, men started coming into the room, a group of about twenty guys in blue jumpsuits, accompanied by Brian. The first one shook my hand and said hello, followed by about half of the others. When they’d sat down, another group came in led by Mike. These men were all wearing orange jumpsuits. Fewer of the men in this second group approached to shake my hand. I asked Brian later the significance of the different colors, assuming that it had something to do with their crimes. I was wrong. The blue were low security, and the orange were medium. “The security assessments are made according to each guy individually, and so some of the low security guys are guilty of worse crimes than the high security guys, but they’re in blue because they aren’t considered as much of a risk in here.”
      There was a mix of ages and races, a good number of young guys in their twenties, and also men in their fifties and older. About two fifths were black, including some quite young looking, along with much older men with mustaches and regal bearings. Most were tattooed with marijuana leaves, skulls, and other designs I couldn’t make out without staring. There was a young, middle eastern-looking guy who spoke with an Arabic accent and seemed more like someone you’d see working in the IT department of an office downtown. A couple white guys with ponytails, and another artsy-looking type with tousled hair who looked like he could have been sipping a Schlitz at a poetry reading last week in my favorite bar. There was a Native American guy and another who was either Indian or Hispanic. There was also a giant leprechaun Elvis.
      This last guy was in his late forties, spoke in a full-on, heavy Irish brogue, and had slicked-back black hair and long black sideburns. He looked like The King and spoke like one of the evil leprechauns who give Bugs Bunny the magic shoes that make him dance uncontrollably in the surrealistic St. Patrick’s Day cartoon. He was the only person wearing a white jumpsuit and had a badge that said “Inmate Worker.” I found out later that he was one of the good behavior guys who were allowed to work in the laundry and received a paycheck, along with the possibility of shortened time. What possibly could have brought this man to a county jail . . . in Kansas, of all places? Looking around the circle at each man, I started wondering what had brought each of these men here, even the ones who seemed to belong here—I wondered not what their crimes were but what their lives were like before incarceration. What were their childhoods like? How did they sit down to dinner with their parents at night, if they did—was the television playing; were they told to wash their hands before coming to the table? What was their first car, their first job? Did they enjoy gym class in school? What music did they play in their car stereo? Did they have children of their own?
      Many of the men made eye contact with me, a few didn’t. Most had easygoing countenances; only a few seemed on edge. On their way to their seats, they each grabbed blank, lined paper from a stack. The few who sat at chairs without desks grabbed grammar books to hold on their laps. Mike handed them each a pencil, saying, “I’ll be collecting these at the end of class as usual.” The men chatted among themselves, as it went through my mind that if there were a prison riot, I might be kept in that room, held at sharpened pencil-point. Brian later told me the class usually had about twenty guys in it, but they’d had about forty because I was there.
      Typically, class time was divided into three parts. In the first, the men read aloud their poems from Brian’s handout. Then they’d have a freewrite, and in the third they’d read what they just wrote.
      After a few minutes, Brian sat in the desk chair next to mine, said hello to the men, and introduced me as a local poet. Then it was my turn. I’d hoped he’d talk for a while so I could gather myself a bit and think of what I might say along the way. No luck. I wasn’t at ease when I started speaking and had no idea if what I was saying would be of any interest to anyone there.
      “Hi, everyone, and thanks for having me here. So . . . Yes. Um . . . I’ve lived in Lawrence for the last ten years, came from Ohio originally, and have been writing poetry seriously since I was about fifteen . . . ”
      I said, “Writing is the freest thing I know how to do in my life. When I sit down to write, I write for about an hour, sometimes two, trying to get out all the stuff in my head that I’ve been thinking about, stuff that I thought might make a good poem. I talk to people I know, telling them things I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in regular life. Once I’ve written out everything that’s in my head, I keep going—even if my hand hurts. At this point I have no idea what’s coming out of my pen. I’m more or less just trying to make the good feeling come to me and stay as long as I can make it. Everything I’ve written up to this point is usually complete crap. What I get down on paper after I’ve passed the point of thinking ahead of what I’m writing can, sometimes, be good. Later I look it over and if it seems to have promise, Itypeitoutandtrytomakeapoemoutof it.
      “When I’m on a roll like this, I’ll often just let whatever pops into my head be the first line of a poem, even if it’s something stupid or bizarre, such as . . . ” And sitting there, nervously, in front of the inmates, I searched my brain and out popped the phrase—“ . . . an elephant walks into a McDonald’s. I may think of a first line like that as I’m writing really quickly. So then I tell myself a story about what might happen if an elephant really did walk into a McDonald’s. I follow it out according to the sort of logic that gets set up by the first line. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t. 
      “Now, I’d like to read you some of my poems.”
      Before I began, I read a poem I’d brought by Sherman Alexie, whom I introduced as a Native American poet from Spokane, Washington. Mike interrupted me to say that they have some Sherman Alexie books in the jail library already.
      I gave little introductions to each of my own poems and didn’t do a very good job, I thought. I read the ten in the handout and finished with an extra I’d brought. They’d laughed here and there at my previous poems, and this last one had them going pretty well. If I did nothing else that afternoon, at least I’d made a roomful of inmates laugh.
      Periodically, during my reading, we were interrupted by loud announcements on unseen speakers about this or that visiting period being over, or this or that person having to report to such and such a place, just like Johnny Cash’s recording at Folsom.
      After my reading, the men read aloud their poems from Brian’s packet. If the person who’d written a poem wasn’t there that day, for reasons never specified, someone else volunteered. They seemed proud to read their stuff and quickly offered to read each other’s poems. Some of them read haltingly, but most were fluent enough to make listening pleasant.
      For the second part of the class, Brian wrote several phrases on a white board behind us, to give them ideas for their freewrite. I was surprised to see that most were from the titles of my poems, phrases like: “The Exact Opposite of Exile,” “The Delicate Balance of Maple Avenue,” and “The Difficulty of Dreams.” He also put up the phrase “An elephant walks into a McDonald’s.” The men wrote, more or less quietly, for about ten minutes. I didn’t know what to do, so I wrote too.

                  English in One Easy Lesson
            Tina had only been working there for two days. No one
            had told her what to do if an elephant came in. “Do we
            have a special Happy Meal for elephants?” she
            wondered. Tina looked at the register, but it was no
            help. She looked to the left, then the right, but her
            coworkers were ignoring her. “They have it easy. They
            have humans. Humans are easy. They just want Big
            Macs and fries. What could this elephant want?” She
            stood wide-eyed and scared as the elephant silently
            watched her. He lifted his trunk. She opened her mouth
            and nodded, as if that would help the elephant speak.

      In the third part of the class, most of the men read what they’d just written, though some read poems they’d composed outside of class on pages torn from spiral notebooks. Everyone was allowed to read two pieces and some asked and were allowed to read a third. Most of it was what one might expect, a lot of first-person stuff about being in jail, staring at walls, not being free to leave, imagining what’s going on in the outside world, feeling sadness, self-pity, or frustration at what they saw as their weaknesses responsible for leading them to jail. Only a few read poems glorifying violence, usually in quiet voices and with eyes downcast—all of which made it even scarier. Most of it, though, was soul-searching kind of stuff. Then one guy, a young man with red hair and a beard, started out with, “You fucking bitch slut, you put me in this hole. When I get out I’m gonna fuck you with my three-fifty. I’m gonna put my dick in your ass—” and Mike came gliding swiftly, but calmly, out of his office, where he’d gone during the freewrite, and cut the young man off. Others were hooting and laughing, though in a sheepish way that made them all look like children, even the middle-aged.
      In a soft voice, Mike said, “Do I have to make my speech about what’s appropriate here?” And the young man apologized and deferred to the next reader in the circle who read a poem he’d written to a prompt based on one of my titles. It was titled “The Exact Opposite” and was about how his brother was the exact opposite of him, went to school and did well in life, but ended up dying young of leukemia. The speaker wished his brother could come back, even if it meant him having to take his brother’s place in death.

In all, five guys had written about my elephant in the McDonald’s, including giant leprechaun Elvis. A couple of these were hilarious and made the room laugh harder than my own attempt. I didn’t mind. I felt a rush of happiness knowing I’d been responsible, in a small way, for a room full of jail inmates spending a Thursday afternoon writing about a pachyderms placing orders for Happy Meals. Almost as if one of my own poems had come to life right there in the room with me, trumpeting through its upraised, greasy trunk. 
      After they all had read, Brian asked me to read a few more of my own poems to close out the class. Then Mike collected the poems that the men had just written for the handout that Brian would distribute next class. He collected the pencils. Afterward, he escorted the blue guys out of the room first. About half of them shook my hand and thanked me for coming in. Then the orange guys were taken out—Mike said, “OK, pumpkins, let’s head out,”—and a few more shook my hand than when they’d entered. This included one older man—huge, bald, and tattooed all over his neck and arms—who showed me a poem he’d written about Robert Johnson, the delta blues man, whom he’d incorrectly named Ben Johnson. I didn’t correct him. On his right arm, I’d noticed a huge tattooed swastika with a drop of blue tattooed blood coming from the center.
      Later, in the empty room, Mike thanked me for coming in, and then we three took the elevator back down to the entrance. Brian and I passed through the metal detector and put on our coats. There were a few more men behind the desk by then, all burly guys who looked like cops and didn’t make conversation with us like the men who’d been there when we’d arrived. They just stood and watched us dress and leave. Must be the influence of the fugitive dog lady and her demon lover, I thought to myself. Glad I’m not carrying a dog cage.
      On the way home, Brian and I talked a little about the guys. “I get a lot out of that class,” he said. “They open themselves up more than do the undergrads in my creative writing classes at KU, which is unexpected on one level, but also makes a kind of sense. They are tough, sure, but they’re also more innocent when it comes to trying to posture in their writing.”
      I certainly had seen that in most of the poems the men had shared that afternoon, making each seem a sort of hybrid child/adult who appeared simultaneously innocent and hardened. What inspired them each to take part in Brian’s class, I wondered, especially with the enthusiasm most of them displayed? Had they been excited about poetry in grade school? Somehow, I doubted this. I tried to picture them back in their pods, sitting for an hour in bed with pen and paper in hand, waiting for a waterfall to happen, or for the words to simply flow. I remembered, with a twinge of guilt, that I’d unthinkingly characterized writing as the “freest” feeling I’d ever known. In my desire to speak genuinely, and to say something that might be useful to their own attempts at putting their thoughts on paper, I hoped that I hadn’t added to the pain of being locked up. Perhaps not, though. Perhaps that feeling of freedom, of writing a line like “the horse and rider beat furiously across the darkening prairie,” for example, while actually sitting in a locked pod with slits for windows, might account in some small way for why those men were in that room, and so evidently glad to be.
      As institutional as a college campus can be, and as difficult as any individual undergraduate’s life is at times, perhaps the release of writing, of practicing any art with focus and purpose, provides something for those men that rang at higher volume than for a typical college student, calling the inmates to open up in ways college students just aren’t driven to. I imagined the way a backyard barbeque on the wind smells to a man eating dinner in his own house next door and to a homeless man passing through the alley behind. Or perhaps, I thought, they’re just putting it all on in that way that devious people can—giving anyone in charge what they think they want. This cynical perspective didn’t stick though. I could still hear that one man’s poem about his dead brother, and the swastika man’s evident enthusiasm in his poem about Robert Johnson. That was real.
      Snapping me out of my reverie, Brian added that he makes a point to hold class even on holidays such as Christmas, since he noticed that was when the men seemed to feel their being locked up more, perhaps, than at other times of the year. “Family times,” said Brian.
      Sitting there in the car, still exhilarated from the anticipation and emotions of the reading, I looked at Brian, the mere hundred-some pounds of him, and felt even more respect for him than I had already. His evident compassion somehow made him seem larger than his diminutive physical stature implied. He then asked if I’d come and give a reading for his writing classes at the university, and I gratefully accepted. He went on to say flattering things about my work, including that it seemed to him that I had enough poems for a first book, that my work had a coming together of theme. He added that his own third book manuscript, a sonnet sequence, was making the round of publishers.
      “Someday, I’d like to write about these prison classes,” he added. I told him I thought he’d do a great job of it.
      About a year later, after I’d been accepted to the Master’s program in creative writing that would take me away from Kansas for good, I got an email from Brian. In it he told me that every once in a while, someone in his creative writing class at the jail writes another poem about an elephant walking into a McDonald’s.