Howard-Cathode Ray Tube,Whenever I’m too in love with somebody, I imagine him in prison—orange jumpsuit, laceless slippers, his days a humiliating routine of following other men’s orders. He’s been convicted of something cowardly, or neglectful. Not murder, but uttering and publishing, maybe, or accidental mail fraud. Something worse than failing to fall in love with me back, and the idea is I accept he’ll be locked up for years so I am free to stop thinking about him and go for a hike or invite my nieces over for some Yahtzee or to find somebody else who tells long, charming stories at the bar and is fun to shop thrift stores with but who is not at this moment behind bars. Of course, I am too in love, so in my head he looks good in orange, and the books next to his bunk are books I want him to tell me about, and he does, in long letters he has plenty of time to write when he’s not playing handball or gluing googly eyes to rocks in arts and crafts time or perfecting his toilet wine recipe. He writes every day. I visit him, and in my prison there is Plexiglas between us, this actual barrier – dirty with the grease of other inmates trying so hard to feel the fingertips of their wives and girlfriends—, this physical object which explains why his hands aren’t on me, and which muffles his voice when he tells me he’s sorry he can’t drive me home down the curvy road with no guardrail, he can’t make me dinner tonight, or any night, but would I please please tell him about every part of my day, every moment that made me laugh, and could I laugh too, when I tell him, because he misses my laugh wildly and so much.

Jennifer A. Howard directs the MFA program and edits Passages North at Northern Michigan University in the snowy Upper Peninsula.

Artwork by Jeff Kallet