From Issue 24: "Porous Rock" by Demetrius Buckley (poetry)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

"Porous Rock" debuts in Issue 24 of Tahoma Literary Review.  This poem moves with an emotional energy that draws from the surprising use of wordplay and sound, and from the poignant, concurrent imagery of incarceration and the familial. The epistle at the end caught me up: a voice that offers no consolation, but is somehow tender.

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Jessica Cuello
Poetry editor



Porous Rock

Demetrius Buckley


Stuck in some state pen,
jagged fence with two towers,

six phones to forty inmates, hard beds, heads
on iron pillows, some Studio 3 

movie scene, Momma sanctified
in Cognac, pressing curls and spandex

slushed into an aromatic crotch. A new Iliad or idiot
when I thought I could be something worth wild.

Factory worker, father militant,
could smell a dirty taint like fried chicken.

He'd let bygones be bygones, shirt splotched
of another's—uniform, suit: some stick-up

kid far too young to recognize failure, faces and misfits,
Momma's mascara smeared, uncle’s bowling shoes, his

prison release form framed, his heavy talk
of odor in older men, the crying of an older man,

the all too well of nothing ever getting better, 
so you rock alongside, how Grandma

rocked you to sleep: that was just thunder—how
her hands were always oily, always

moving about to a gospel hymn. And I mean him
which is now a haloed sequence, a glare

through a prison window, a flash
on a sharpened shank, a tunnel with no end.

Dear Mr. Prisoner,

I only know you from TV screens barred by color,
heard your teary weep on a medium,

hands up for search to desensitize touch. Is it
that hard to do time? Thought you was bad,

street rowdy on intersection, minutes like
practice bullets and a sentence full of adverbs packing.

State shoes drag under uniform pressed by night.
Family severed by incision, phone

clunked on some yard with minutiae left
to explain that living is two steps parted in half thoughts.

Dear Prisoner, look how it got you, all beat with invisible
bruises that you grunt off a mat, exhale when they call


Twenty-four-hour sleep invaded, prison bars under eyelids.
Look how it got you.


Reprinted with permission of the author

Buckley had this to say about his piece:

“Porous Rock” is an approximation of the urban plight. The characters described in the poem claim their own origins. Like grandmas, women of religious stern, hands were always oily. But the men, the failed warriors in this poem, reconstruct trauma as a norm, “a prison release form framed,” followed by career options. In the end, the incarcerated becomes a kind of porous rock, alive but motionless in the time given, and the letter in the end was written by a prisoner to himself and to the men in the poem, an ode to our ancient Diaspora.

Image credit: Daniella Toosie-Watson (this is a recent portrait instead of a photograph because of the limits of Demetrius' incarceration) 

Demetrius Buckley is the winner of the 2021 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Michigan Quarterly Review, where he won the 2020 Page Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets, Apogee, PEN America, and RHINO