He sat on a low bench and waited for me every Friday morning. A big man, the strong and silent type, he was doing a four year bit. The other inmates were inside the room, laughing and having a good time. But Jon sat quietly. Outside the room was outside the building, and it was often cold. But Jon sat there, smoking and thinking. I often asked him what he was thinking about, but he never answered me.

My school principal was putting together a book called Prison Voices. He interviewed men and women from across Canada, but he wanted some strong selections from his own area, Vancouver. He pleaded with me to get some creative writing from my class.

“Hey, Jon, how about giving me some stuff for the book?”

“Not me, Ed, I ain’t no writer.”

“I think you’re playing with me, Jon. I know you can do it.”

“No, not me.”

“How about just a little something next week?”

“Okay, Ed. Just a little something.”

This is what he turned in the next week. It’s one of the strongest things I have ever read. It caused some consternation among the funding sources for the book, but the principal fought to keep it in the book. This is exactly the way he wrote it.

 

grape jelly

 

i’m through trying to emulate words

that have been coddled and sheltered from the world

by authors with silver egos and slicker tongues.

 

i want to swallow my pens and

vomit images upon the page;

to spank words

and send them red-bottomed from the room;

 

to forget the dry syntax,

the politically correct anal froth

that sounds more nazi than reform.

 

i want to abuse the english language

like finnigan’s wake did the irish;

like gutter quebecois did the french

 

i want words that smell sweet

as a half-naked thirty-something

in the back seat of a buick regal;

 

words that are wet with fear

smuggled in sweat soaked blue-jeans

torn at the knees after a hard nights thieving

 

words that suffocate in their cellophane wrappers

given away free in the candy stores of amerika,

breeding rebellion and inspiring the masses

of illiterate beggars who march through city streets

looking for scraps of food under padlocked dumpsters;

 

i want seventy-five dollar pens that write seventeen cent poems,

to be thrown away when the ink has bled dry.

 

i want words that offend;

words that rape priests

and send cheers through crowds of frightened children.

 

i want words that question;

words that linger in the backs of throats

like half-dissolved aspirin.

 

words that will duel anything ever written

at any time,

by anyone

and won’t even break a sweat.

 

i want words that run salivating tongues along warm panty lines

in the bedrooms of lovers entangled in wet sheets

strangled in skin and salty sweat;

 

that embrace lovers with indecision and guilt

as they make that horrifically long walk to the altar

or that longer stretch back home

to their waiting spouse’s tapping foot

and wounded-dog cries

 

words that sound like cherry bombs

exploding in a pranksters hand;

like gas shells over hamilton,

i want to be the fallout in my own city,

my country and preferably washington, dc.

 

i want words that betray liars

while i lie paralysed on the beaches of france

or the deserts of morocco

crippled by scotch and heroin

cursing the sand

plagued by the piercing pitches of demons i’ve loosed

upon the eardrums of the world

 

i want to be the laugh in the poetics of robbins,

the innocence of lerner’s switchblade;

bathe the black indifference of vonnegut jr

with a voice and insolence all my own…

 

i want my words to bleed grape jelly.

i want real emotion.

 

What do you think of this poem?

P.S. Watch for my most popular book, Once a Priest to be 99 cents next Sunday

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Comments
  1. Heather says:

    Probably one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read – a blend of imagery and emotion so real it almost frightens. Loved it!

  2. PennyD says:

    Ed, I remember this poem of Jon’s and rereading it I again got that same ‘Wow’ screaming through my head. He paints with words. I hope he is still writing.

  3. And I want words, Ed! Words that expose the darkness in my soul that Jon’s poem evokes. I want words that explain why reading it made me cry and laugh and love and hate all at the same time; and words to express the haunting echoes that reverberate throughout my heart even after I’ve stopped reading. I want words that help me understand why this man, this Jon, seems more real and more transparent and more human than anyone else I know. And I want words to apologize for things I didn’t do; and words to give him peace and to thank him for his honesty. Dixie

  4. Hi Ed, I posted a comment on this…I’m blown away by it and will be using it in my psychology class this week. Thank you. On another note, my son, Rob, in prison, read and loved Williwaw…said: “It was the most exciting book I’ve read in a long time.” I’m reading it now on kindle…over half finished, since I lived on Adak (as did Rob), I’m a little distracted by your descriptions of the weather and conditions there, but definitely enjoying the plot and the memories. Actually, I think it would be a perfect place for Villa’s type inmate environment. Last week’s blog was of powerful interest to me, too, I tried to post but it got rejected for some reason, I finally gave up. Dixie

    _____

    From: Prison Uncensored – The Truth Behind the Bars [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 11:44 AM To: dixienok@cox.net Subject: [New post] Grape Jelly

    Ed Griffin posted: “He sat on a low bench and waited for me every Friday morning. A big man, the strong and silent type, he was doing a four year bit. The other inmates were inside the room, laughing and having a good time. But Jon sat quietly. Outside the room was outside t”

  5. Hg says:

    Wow, Ed, I agree. This is powerful stuff! Besides, as I type this, I am in Hamilton, so I can’t help but feel a strong connection. Never again will peanut butter and grape jelly be the same. Thank you!

  6. Catana says:

    Holy cow! This is from a man who “ain’t no writer?” That’s not only powerful stuff, he knows how to use words the way very few people can. I do hope it got published.

  7. judith says:

    Oh MY – What powerful writing for a man with no words. He has it, and he uses it. What a gift of expression. thank you for giving it back.

  8. Love it, Ed. It’s almost like Bukowski in places – and I love Bukowski..

  9. jcommittedk says:

    Jon is most definitely a writer! I am bereft of words after reading it.

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