Five Poems by Charles Culhane

BOMB 21 Fall 1987
021 Fall 1987
​Orshi Drozdik

Orshi Drozdik, Dystopia, 1986, black and white photograph.

The Ancient One

Who is this ancient one
in my body
behind the bars and glass
while night descends
and fire goes quietly over the mountains.

I am here sighing
in some strange language.

There between the branches
under a panoply of wild promise
a wordless web of lights
orders my tongue to retreat.

Before I go I remember
I wanted to say something
about the orange lights on the river
the boat that returns
for I saw it more than once
and a city of light many times.


Green Haven Halls

Sometimes walking down these halls
the walls can be a lonely gauntlet
with little relief in the broken windows.

These wacky tunnels, bleeding catacombs—
how make the cement surrender its resonance?

Who was that lunatic
they wheeled through yesterday?
Did you hear him raving
about hollow halls
and hallowed men seeking concrete exits?
He was playing the restraining sheet blues,
plucking the straps with his teeth
and the gaps in his mouth
were whistled complaints
cuz someone had washed the songs off the walls.
Then there was Crazymoto and the Rainbow Niggers
got caught urinating on the Z Block wall,
said: We are agents of Mahatma Gandhi
assigned to cool the fires of purgatory.
They scattered our bones
in the heart of the gulag.



When words become swords
hacking at unhealed wounds
and eyes are three sealed tombs
while every second draws blood
running like a yellow river
past the cave’s blue door.


After Almost Twenty Years

This is getting difficult.

Perhaps there’s another formula
    for happiness and contentment
    I haven’t explored or exhausted yet.

But I talk to birds.
I have to put in my partial plates tho
w/tip of index finger fanning wet lips

        (do it!)

     the sound near-identical
      which amazes me.

Recently the birds woke me up
   with their clamorous love
   wings beating around the bars and glass
        in animated flight
   jailbirds in the rush of lusty spring.

I was barely awake, grumbling at my broken sleep
then somehow drawn out
    into the quiet light
    sitting on the side of my bed.
    And there they were
                              two of em
                                 beaking it up.
Oh! I could’ve fallen into curled glee
    wound with the spring’s redemption.
And the nest already built
    under the highest beam in the block.


Death Row

Rain falling on the 4th of July
went to the little yard on the roof
standing in my boxer shorts
I peed down the drain
cuz even the bathroom’s locked up.

Then went in for a cold shower
walked naked down the tier
in my green-towel superman cape
past stunned and smiling guards
and buddies laughing in the cages.
“My token expression for the day,”
I said. With dignity.

Chuck Culhane is serving a life sentence in Sing Sing. These five poems are drawn from a book-length manuscript written in prison.

Business for the Millennium by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Quntos KunQuest by Zachary Lazar
Illustration of two men against an abstract background, one of the men holds a key and the other appears to have a baseball resting against his shoulder. The paper is heavily creased as if it had been folded.

Two decades into a life sentence, KunQuest remains determined to live his best life as a rapper, artist, relentless reader, and, now, a debut novelist with This Life.

Danzig Baldaev’s Drawings from the Gulag by John Reed
Danzig Baldaev 01

Danzig Baldaev, hired by the KGB to document tattoo symbolism within the Russian penal system, secretly sketched the atrocities inflicted on political prisoners. The drawings are now published in Drawings from the Gulag.

Hans Fallada’s The Drinker by Nick Stillman
Article 4823 Fallada Back Desk Copy

Originally published posthumously and recently reprinted by Melville House, The Drinker is Hans Fallada’s brutal account of provincial German shopkeeper Erwin Sommer’s loss of a business client, refusal to admit this to his wife, lightning-fast descent into sordid alcoholism, and incarceration in prison and an insane asylum.

Originally published in

BOMB 21, Fall 1987

James Rosenquist, Julian Barnes by Patrick McGrath, Diane Kurys, Richard Greenberg, and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe.

Read the issue
021 Fall 1987