Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Friday, July 06, 2018


by Buff Whitman-Bradley

Empty holding cells are seen in the East Block for condemned prisoners during a tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison. Credit: Stephen Lam/Reuters via The Boston Globe.

When we visit San Quentin's death row
We sit with a prisoner
On plastic chairs
Inside a small cage,
Conversing and eating greasy snacks
For a couple of hours.
It's a tight space for three adults
And it doesn't take long
For claustrophobia to creep in.
But that same area
Would be ample
For a single small child.
You could put a nice ball in there,
Maybe a stuffed animal.
The children who aren't walking yet
Could crawl around on the floor
And pull themselves up
On the bars.
The walkers would be safe
From running too far
And into harm's way.
The climate inside is controlled
So the children would be warm in winter
Cool in summer.
The guards would come by regularly
And slide food through the slot
In the door
So the kids wouldn't go hungry.
And when they crave social interactions
They could call to each other
In their cute little voices
Through the bars up and down the line.
Initially, some might miss their parents
And cry themselves to sleep,
But children, as we know,
Are supremely adaptable
And after a while would surely become used
To their new surroundings,
Might begin to think of their cages
As a kind of home,
Might before long
Forget their law-breaking, border-crashing parents,
Might even bond with the uniformed upholders
Of American values
Who rescued them
From lives of international crime.

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poetry has been published in many print and online journals including Atlanta Review, Bryant Literary Review, Concho River Review, Crannog, december, Hawai'i Review, Pinyon, Rockhurst Review, Solstice, Third Wednesday, Watershed Review. He has written several books of poems, including When Compasses Grow Old, To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World, and Cancer Cantata. He was the producer of the Courage to Resist Audio Project and editor of the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War based on his Audio Project interviews. In addition, he co-produced two documentary films, Outside In and Por Que Venimos. He lives in northern California with his wife Cynthia.