Gretchen Primack is the author of two poetry collections, Doris' Red Spaces (Mayapple Press 2014) and Kind (Post-Traumatic Press 2013). Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Field, Poet Lore, Ploughshares, and other journals. Also an animal advocate, she co-wrote the memoir The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals (Penguin Avery 2012).

July 27, 2016

Gretchen Primack

Knowledge (East Wing)

Eastern Correctional I honor life by not taking it anymore. Not a fish's life. Not a calf's. No one's brother or child. I did violence. I put it between my teeth and it formed my blood, and I took blood. Now I eat what they ate in Eden before violence. Now I ask forgiveness for the life I’ve taken that wasn't mine to take — the man, and the calves and fishes, the chicks and their mothers. The cops laugh. Their work is domination. They lord over, and some men on the block call themselves kings. But I am done with that in every soul of me, every body.

This poem is part of a new manuscript, Corrections, that explores the world of a maximum-security men's prison, primarily through persona poems. Though I've spent a lot of time in such facilities, the vast majority of the poems aren't in the voices of men I know but imaginary men inspired by them. This poem is an exception: "Knowledge" is based squarely on someone I met who, like me, is an activist on behalf of non-human animals. This man, Intelligent, developed an anti-violence philosophy while incarcerated as part of his rehabilitation, and in doing so "extended his circle of compassion to include all living things," as Albert Schweitzer urges. To Intelligent, violence is violence, whether it is to a man or a hen. He maintained a vegan lifestyle within prison walls, an enormous challenge. He's since been released and continues his peace activism. I wanted to honor him and his philosophy, and share his message of compassion, in Corrections.

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