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poetry Visiting

New York poet Rebecca Schumejda offers a parent’s heart-rending account of a visit to her incarcerated child.


By Rebecca Schumejda


There are losses more heartbreaking than death
like waiting for morning count to end,
so you can walk through metal detectors
to embrace your youngest child
under the scrutiny of armed guards.
When you get there you can’t remember
the conversation you rehearsed during
your four-hour drive to see him because
you are lost in how his skin sank further
below his cheekbones. How? Just, how?

What can you say when he tells you
he passes time playing cards for push-ups
with a cellmate who is serving time for rape?
His antipsychotic meds give him the shakes,
but he has read four books from cover to cover.
When you call him by his name, he looks
around as if you are talking to someone else.
Before becoming a number, he was your baby.

You will never hug him outside of designated
visiting areas, like this one, where you watch him
devour vending food machine until he vomits
because his stomach has become accustomed
to emptiness. I tell you not to go so often;
what good can come from secondhand suffering,
of shackling yourself to someone else’s sentence?

On your way home, you pull over a dozen times
because of intervals of torrential tears,
but you will go back next week and the week after.
You can’t accept he could have done something
so disconcerting, even though he did.
The only time I see you smile now is when you
tell the story about when you forgot his lunchbox
on his first day of kindergarten and he told you,
Don’t worry mommy, I’ll go home and get it,
you wait right here for me and I’ll be back.

Rebecca Schumejda is the author of several full-length collections including Falling Forward (sunnyoutside press), Cadillac Men (NYQ Books), Waiting at the Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press), Our One-Way Street (NYQ Books), Something Like Forgiveness, a single epic poem accompanied by collage art by Hosho McCreesh (Stubborn Mule Press), and Sentenced (NYQ Books). She is the co-editor at Trailer Park Quarterly. She received her MA in Poetics from San Francisco State University and her BA from SUNY New Paltz. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can find her online at:


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