Artwork with Face Cover Photo

Letters from Daddy: Winner of the Page Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets

Letters from Daddy (29)


My love child of song,
child of some place
names aren’t meant — needed, if
you can hear me in this prison yard,
then I sing prayer like gospel
in a four wall monstrosity of scribbled letters.


Mothers are apricot trees to pick from
and fathers are mountains
you see in postcards or from afar
but never up close so you keep walking
til your feet hurt and hunger succumbs
to dragonflies and dry cactuses, to smoking
outside of bars and laughing with the intention
to succeed a want, and
how the stories of a man you never met
could be of some importance,
so relevant that he left before chorus,
and now you’re 23 and a release date is just
an ordinary Wednesday.
Daddy empty like justice, streets
when emptied into a system, recipe
missing its main ingredient. If
I don’t exhale tonight. I wrote you some words
on a piece of callout, deodorant sticker to seal
so God can’t open it,
without me knowing.


Sugar sweet but deadly, and honey bun
a chocolate chip swirling cinnamon,
sweet tooth when your momma
in her low cut shorts, tight shirt,
bring men to a salivating beast
where too many eyes stripping her naked
gets me all boiled and I gotta show dominance like ape,
and before belly swaddled orb, sin
lasted on our tongues like sour patches.
Momma candy store out of business.


You were no bigger than contraband
passed on a 6:30 yard, and
when a CO catches me with a stash of assortedness
it feels like they’re taking you from me,
and I cause a scene, bite
down and throw my fist before I’m gassed.
I take the risk because it’s all I got.
Don’t you want to ask why I risked it?


I may be dead to you.
A visit means that they will have to pat you down,
find whatever piece of me you’re hiding.


The door opens like normal
and I’m immovable down to the last second.
It was something I heard,
a dream catching up like déjà vu,
that the universe is a passing CO
or the passing itself is the universe.
An envelope so many worlds.
I begin to believe for no reason —
to seize at each step, the sun, the walkway,
the officer, the dried blood in the chow hall —
when you ask
do I believe in freedom, and my
response being thrown in segregation,
with another charge.

Demetrius Buckley’s poem, “Letters from Daddy,” was selected as the Winner of the Page Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets. To learn more about the prize, visit our Prizes page. To buy the Fall 2020 Issue, featuring Demetrius Buckley’s work, visit our Purchase page.