Poem of the Week | November 05, 2018

This week we are delighted to present “I Know A Man Who Swallowed the Sky,” a new poem by Cory Hutchinson-Reuss.

Cory Hutchinson-Reuss grew up in Arkansas and holds a PhD in English from the University of Iowa. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Pinch, Drunken Boat, Four Way Review, Salamander, Witness, and in Crazyhorse for the 2016 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize for Poetry. She is a 2017 Best New Poets nominee and a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. She lives in Iowa City.


I Know A Man Who Swallowed the Sky

                                           For RW

He lives behind prison walls.
When he was younger, he lived

in the interlock of law and anger,
banned from the prison with trees,

driven inside, under ceiling,
into the solitary eye.


A woman gave him a few seeds
that another man had written

in seclusion and prayer.
The man I know ate the seeds,

recognized them as his own
kernel splitting open,

wound into window,
through which years later I see

what’s possible. Transformation’s
daily grit and the rhythms of being

human with others: he carries a book
and notepad, a brown sack of fruit.

He says I love you to the men in hospice.
Some curse him.

He works. He chews gum and reads.
His heart fibrillates.

He stitches a parachute of blues.
The past’s pure grain despair,

cell fire, and needle’s eye.
From his stories I learn I was born

in the hospital where his friends
went for healing. Missouri boot.

The river’s gospel, sweltering.
We talk about the mysterious

bind between divinity and humanity.
That some aches never subside.


Finally allowed into the prison yard,
he rested his face

against his first tree in years,
sealed in himself an image,

an embrace of the moment
that grows in widening arcs.

In lungs, the branches, the branches
through fences, through fences,

cloud, hovering like a hermitage
where a man writes seeds in the rain.

I eat them, too. They fall to the roots,
sprout according to each need.

They break into a blue firmament,
a heaven so free and irrevocable it hurts.

Author’s Note

I’m part of a writing workshop composed of incarcerated and outside writers. One week I brought in a poem that included a line about touching a tree for the first time in years, which prompted one of the guys to share a story about his early days in prison. Over the years, he and I have discovered our commonalities: the region where we each grew up, various creative and spiritual practices, and certain writers whose books have been instrumental in our healing. I admire the inner work this man has done and the way he cares for the people around him. His transformation, his compassionate, unflappable presence, have impacted me, and I wanted to honor him in some way. He gave me his blessing to write about part of his story and the way it has intertwined with mine.