Seated in a circle in the small room allowed us,
the men wear their prison greens, like gas station attendants.
For two days we’ve worked on how
to deal with conflict peaceably.
At break a few of the men toss a ball around.
Lazily, elegantly, their hands find the place
where the ball is going, throw it lightly on, while I watch
with the pleasure of someone who’s all thumbs.
Now I’m to lead a go-round on “a time
I wish I’d had more self-control.” Anything I say
will be small next to the stories of the men,
revealing again the gap between my good fortune
and their lives on the streets,
my freedom and their repetitive days.
But I have to say something,
so I tell about a talk with my daughter
about her cat and fleas and advice
I gave that she resented.
A man remembers when he spoke rudely
to the judge and got years added to his sentence.
Another beat a guy almost to death for insulting his mother.
One got in a fight about the phone here in the prison—
he was pulled from the college program.
At last everyone has had a turn.
I look around the circle, struggling
to come up with a word to conclude—
until we all explode into laughter.
We laugh and laugh and gasp for breath
and laugh some more—laughter
that holds me and rocks me in their embrace.