A poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts:

At two a.m., without enough spirits

spilling into my liver to know

to keep my mouth shut, my youngest

learned of years I spent inside a box: a spell,

a kind of incantation I was under; not whisky,

but History: I robbed a man. This, months

before he would drop bucket after bucket

on opposing players, the entire bedraggled

bunch fine & six & he leaping as if

every lay-up erases something. That's how

I saw it, my screaming-coaching-sweating

presence recompense for the pen. My father

has never seen me play ball is part of this.

My oldest knew, told of my crimes by

a stranger. Tell me we aren't running

towards failure is what I want to ask my sons,

but it is two in the a.m. The oldest has gone off

to dream in the comfort of his room, the youngest

despite him seeming more lucid than me,

just reflects cartoons back from his eyes.

So when he tells me, Daddy it's okay, I know

what's happening is some straggling angel,

lost from his pack finding a way to fulfill his

duty, lending words to this kid who crawls

into my arms, wanting, more than stories

of my prison, the sleep that he fought while

I held court at a bar with men who knew

that when the drinking was done,

the drinking wouldn't make the stories

we brought home any easier to tell.

From "Felon: Poems," ©2019 Reginald Dwayne Betts, reprinted with permission from W.W. Norton & Company