Welcome to WWPH Writes 58. As an editor at the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, it is highly unusual to receive a hard copy submission. In this digital age, there are many ways to reach us (Submittable is the best way to send us your work). However, when I received a letter from Raheem A.Rahman, an incarcerated man from Maryland, I made an exception, and Madness is published here today. Please note that his work has some visceral images of mental illness in prison. Even more so, it’s about language, and most of all, the will to understand and survive. In contrast, our poem this issue, Passing Lane, by Wayne Karlin speaks of survival as well, centered here on fragility and love as a couple travels life’s road.
In other news from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, we are OPEN for manuscript submissions (cash award, publication, launch support!), our award-winning 2023 books are now available for pre-sale, and our WWPH paid Fellowship program opens on October 1st for applications.
co-president/fiction editor WWPH Writes
WWPH WRITES POETRY
Wayne Karlin has published eight novels and a collection of short stories, as well as three works of non-fiction. He has received two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Paterson Prize in Fiction, the Vietnam Veterans of American Excellence in Arts Award, and the Juniper Prize for Fiction. photo credit: Doug Anderson.
As you drove me home from the hospital,
we didn’t speak of my heart.
I was heart sick. Sick of my heart.
Probed, monitored, prodded
to beat in acceptable rhythms, to harden,
to shudder off grief.
We spoke of your heart.
Of past love, bad love, divorce,
bad endings, the loss of love,
the loss of hope, the need of hope,
the futility of hope, the uncertainty of hope.
The need to leave. To find a way
to beat in rhythm with your life.
The fear of leaving. The fear of age.
Of loneliness. Of time.
Time gone, time rushing,
uncertain as tomorrow.
Until our conversation was cut
by the blind swerve of a pickup truck
so stacked with furniture it seemed to be fleeing
panicked from a life pressed in too tight.
Your life, manifested but not metaphoric,
looming larger than time.
You saved us. You saved yourself.
As you always will. Calmly. Steering
into the precise space you needed.
Your capable hands on the wheel.
©Wayne Karlin 2023
WWPH WRITES PROSE
Raheem A. Rahman is the author of The Caged Guerilla, a collection of his writings on incarceration; he is also a podcaster and a father. His collection can be found at e-retailers including on Amazon. More information on purchasing a copy of The Caged Guerilla can be found here. His podcast, also entitled The Caged Guerilla, can be found here.
Madness, lunacy, extreme periods of psychotic episodes; this is my everyday life. One mental anguish after another. At this current moment, I’m literally between a rock and a hard place.
The tier I’m on goes around in a “U” with 32 cells on the top and 32 on the bottom. The difference is that on this tier there is a wall that goes straight down the middle, splitting the tier in half; so all that I see in front of me is a concrete wall.
The tier is full of lunatics. My neighbor on my left is that serious type of crazy. Personal hygiene is out; showers soap, water toothpaste are non-existent. He doesn’t even flush the toilet. Piles of feces, urine, and trash overflow the commode. The stench that comes from the cell is worse than that of a decomposed body. It seeps through my vent like some Ungodly Wraith. Wretched!
At least, he’s quiet; I can’t say that for the guy on my right. Another type of crazy—a Zap out. This one needs attention. For he is emotionally unstable. He’s the more dangerous type.
He’s always at the door or out his window, loud, telling amazing war stories. A compulsive liar; he is in constant contention with those that are around him. Today he plans on throwing cups of feces on the police; so this should be another eventful day. I’ll hear a lot of yelling and screaming. Witness acts of violence, and feel the effects of the mace can.
How does one even stay sane amongst all this chaos? My man told me the other day, “The judge must have made a mistake when he wrote up my commitment papers. I thought that he sentenced me to twenty years in ‘prison.’ I don’t know how I ended up in an Insane Asylum.”
One has to find peace in the small things. You got to catch those moments of peace whenever you can and appreciate them. The rarity of them is what solidifies their standings.
It’s like living in a broken-down project building—old and decrepit. Crackheads roaming around. Dirt and scum are permanent fixtures like furniture. Poverty and all its effects blanket the area. And amongst this malice and mayhem, you see a small child playing with her young siblings.
The joy in their interaction—the innocence in the shadow of all the deceit. A splash of color in a drab picture…. You have to enjoy these moments. Savor its beauty; appreciate its simplicity.
I had one of them moments last night. It was late night. The moon was out. There were even a couple of stars in the sky and there I was, up in my window, standing on my chair, catching a cool breeze.
I’m talking out my window to my man down the hall. For a moment, it’s quiet out, just me and him on the back lawn “shooting the breeze.” The topics of discussion are our favorite books and authors. We share thoughts and preferences; we jot down the books to look up later.
The conversation then travels from the books to food after discussing a recipe that I had read in a periodical magazine. The conversation of food is so scrumptious it has the palates tasting ingredients.
For a moment, it feels like we are barbecuing on my back lawn. Me and the fellas enjoying some downtime. Then, our peace is broke like a brick thrown through a window on a quiet Sunday evening….Shattered.
“Man, you spell books “B-O-O-K’ apostrophe S’!” someone from another tier screams out their window onto the lawn.”
“No, no, you wrong, son. You spell it ‘B-O-O-K- S’!!” This is yelled out from another window on that side of the lawn.
“See, I’m saying right. The apostrophe is in ‘book’ cause they being owned by somebody!”
Who said this is a real loon: Wild Bill. His real name is Robert but someone gave him the moniker Wild Bill. And he wears the title well, let me tell you. I’ve done witnessed this fool smear do-do all over his body and walk around wearing it all day. What you really got to hear is the way that he talks. He has this funny-pitched, sing-song type of voice. What makes it even more comical is that most times when he pronounces his ‘S’ sounds, it starts off with a whistle.
Anyway, they get engrossed in this deep conversation about how ‘book’ has to have an apostrophe in it when the book belongs to someone. “See, ’cause apostrophe shows possession.” This brings in more voices and the intense dialogue continues.
“I got all types of books in here. I just ain’t trying to put all my knowledge out there.”
“Wild Bill, you dumb-ass don’t know shit,” another loon yells out. This causes a bunch of laughter from both sides of the lawn.
“A’ight, a’ight then, I got a question for all y’all,” screams out Wild Bill.
For some reason, the whole lawn gets quiet to hear Wild Bill’s question. I guess you can say lunacy respects lunacy.
“How many syllables do the word ‘make’ have in it?”
“What word you say, Will Bild?” someone on my side of the lawn yells out.
Several people answer this question leaving the questioner more confused than before.
“I ain’t hear you, what you say, Wild Bill?”
“I said, how many syllables do the word ‘make’ got in it? M-A-K-E.”
Being as though this is supposed to be some type of trick question, there is a long pause before someone answers.
“It got one syllable in it,” someone yells out.
“Naw, you got that wrong,” says Wild Bill.
Someone else yells out that ‘make’ has two syllables. This starts another scholarly debate until Wild Bill gives the answer to the question he posed.
“I knew I’d get y’all. It was a trick question. ‘Make’ ain’t got no syllables.”
Can you believe this Crazy? This starts another debate. At this point, I close my window. I’ve done heard enough for one night. Before long, vulgar names are being called. Hostilities and threats are hurled. A typical ending to an outing when the loons are on the lawn.
As I lay back in my chair trying to get engrossed in a book, a question pops into my mind.
How many syllables in the word ‘Madness’?”
Easy: too many.
©Raheem A. Rahman 2023
WWPH Community News
Shout out to the Washington City Paper for highlighting our new books and for calling the Washington Writers’ Publishing House “A D.C. favorite,” and for noting that our “contest winning books have gained a national readership.” We are in their big FALL PREVIEW issue here. Our 2024 Manuscript contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are OPEN through November 1. Read our recent award-winning books to learn more about our literary sensibility and submit to us. Our 2023 award-winning books are now available for pre-order everywhere you buy books. 2024 submission rules and FAQS can be found here.
WWPH FELLOWSHIPS. We will open our 2023-2024 WWPH Fellowship applications on October 1-November 1. We are seeking three WWPH Fellows to work with Caroline Bock and Jona Colson on editorial, marketing, and promotion at our small press. We offer $500.00 per fellowship for college, graduate, or recent post-graduates. Please note these are fully remote opportunities. We are seeking candidates from DC, Maryland, or Virginia, or those who have a connection to the DMV (i.e. students currently attending school in the DMV can apply). A big thank you to Dr. Jean Feldman for underwriting these WWPH Fellowships. More details on the WWPH Fellowships here.
JOIN US ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14 at 3 pm at POLITICS & PROSE (main store on Connecticut Avenue) for our 2023 award-winning books launch. Free and open to all.