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Winter 2002, Volume 19.2



Jimmy A. LernerPicture of Jimmy A. Lerner.

Jimmy Lerner received an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. His first novel, Y
ou've Got Nothing Coming: Notes From A Prison Fish, will be published by Random House in Spring 2002. Prior to becoming a (reluctant) guest of the Nevada State Prison System, Jimmy was a marketing analyst in San Francisco, a cabdriver in New York City, and a soldier in Panama. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York.

Writer's Block

because I wouldn't shut up,
after 6 days
in Suicide Watch Cell No. 3
the prison shrink pronounces me
"sufficiently stable"
to be entrusted with a pencil stub
suitable for 9 rounds of golf—dull,
no eraser
no mistakes!

and one blank sheet of paper
slides under the steel door;
the old terror of tabula rasa,
the strain to say something…
(which has driven better men than me
to unsupervised suicide)
spawns this tired graffito
on the cinderblock wall:

but my backup plan is better:
an origami airplane
to fly through the cell door
and over the guntowers.

I think I will ask
for a bowl of chocolate ice cream
and a golf cart.


Because They Would Not Give Me the Golf Cart

or the chocolate ice cream,
I spend the next four days
banging my head against the wire-mesh
window of the cell door
(How do you suppose they thread
that heavy metal gauge into the glass?)
til my face is a tall ship sailing
inside a blood-streaked bottle.

"What do you want, six-one-six-three-four?"
The cop's face coiled at the window,
clenched tight as a waiting fist
behind a trick question…

What do I want?

Let's see…
I want a Presidential pardon,
a Papal blessing
followed by a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.
I want 10 free piano lessons,
high-speed Internet access
and a pony for Christmas.
I want my head to stop hurting,
a trip to Disneyland,
an icy mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks.
I want a time machine.
I want my mommy.
I want that magic summer when
Suzy's sweet sixteen lips brushed mine
for the first time…

Not for the first time
I answer:
"Sorry, officer,
I just want
a roll of toilet paper."


How Shapiro Got on My Shit List

Now that we are a nation
where all roads
lead to confession—
data highways of dysfunction,
the unquiet mind
the memoir noir—
I send The Wife away
to the marriage shrink
alone and blind

(requesting she return
with insights
and a six-pack)

while I fondle the remote control
wondering where she has hidden
my pistachio nuts
this time,
already mourning her merciless return,
with breakthroughs
and pills:
"Dr. Shapiro says you're insensitive,
you lack listening skills."

How does a man explain
that we listen
but we can not hear
over the music
this endless symphony
of self-love
pounding, pounding
in our ears.


Convict Carping

in the convict chow hall
(grapefruit and gravy)
our pasts secure in ruin,
we build the wreckage
of our futures
with little plastic spoons.

"Cain't even vote for prezdent"
mourns Mongo
(our reluctant recidivist)
"cain't keep no guns"
(the litany unfurls)
"cain't get no god dame
liquor license"
(like a fishing pole).

While I scoop out the grapefruit
(it does not glitter pink)
grateful that my children
will be spared the truth—
the sight of Mongo
drunk, armed, uninformed
at the local voting booth.


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