Cindy Comes To Hear Me Read

by Jill McDonough

Cindy: not her real name. I met her
in prison, and people in prison I give
the fake names. I taught her Shakespeare, remember
her frown, wide eyes, terror of getting
things wrong. Her clear, arguable thesis
on Desdemona’s motives, Desdemona’s past. The last
days were hard on her, it taking visible work
to see things could be worse. Imagine: I did.
But now she’s out! In jewelry and makeup, new
clothes, haircut she chose and paid for. We hugged.
We’d never hugged; it’s not allowed. On the outside
you can hug whoever you want. She told me she has
an apartment now, a window, an ocean view. She has
a car, she told me, and we both cracked up. The thought of it
wild, as far-fetched then as when you’re a kid playing
grownup, playing any kind of house. She has
a job. She drives there in traffic. Each day
she sees the angry people. Sweet, silly people,
mad—god bless them—at traffic. At other cars.
She laughs, she told me, laughs out loud alone
in her car. People around her angry as toddlers. Whole
highways of traffic, everybody at the work of being free.

Previously published in Radical Teacher (Vol. 109, Fall 2017), Here All Night (Alice James, 2019), and The Slowdown (238, October 23, 2019).

* Mass Poetry Writing Prompt: “On the outside/you can hug whoever you want.” We spend so much time thinking of all the things we can’t do, of all the ways we’re limited by time and circumstances. Write a litany poem, listing all the things you can do, say, wear. List all the ways you are free. End your poem with a line from a song you love, preferably one you’ve shouted out the window on a road trip.


Three-time Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough is the recipient of Lannan, NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships. Her most recent book is Here All Night (Alice James, 2019). She teaches in the MFA program at UMass-Boston and offers College Reading and Writing in Boston jails. Her website: jillmcdonough.com.