Garrett Phelan

Cleaning the Bones

I compress my brother between my palms,
he steps out of tattoo’s ink onto my fingers
and I ask him to choreograph a word for me
and hammer my hands into the future.

His bruises are stored in a ceramic jar.
If only language were the answer.
What was God thinking when he created
thumb, tongue and residue called words?

How, just how, does my brother move through me?
I can’t write an accurate history on his page.
Sometimes I speak him exit words
that hurt coming in and going out.

This night enters me brief and chaotic.
I edge into tomorrow his thumbprint
pressed into heart.

The evening’s a stillbirth,
moon bent over mourning.
I bring out his bones, wash them,
then put them away again.


Prison Visit Meditation

You wait.
They know you are there.
You wait.
You empty your pockets,
you take off your belt,
you lift up your shirt.
You wait.
You walk through a metal detector.
You wait.
You make out shadows that are men
through the dark glass who control doors.
You wait.
The first door opens,
slowly. You wait.
You step in.
You wait.
The door closes
slowly behind you.
You wait.
Through a metal slot you slide
your id to the shadows behind the glass.
You wait.
The shadows slide an id badge back through the slot.
You wait.
The second door opens slowly.
You wait.
You step into a glass box.
You wait.
The door slowly closes behind you.
You wait.
Someone appears outside the third door.
You wait.
The third door opens, slowly.
You wait.
You step through.
The door closes, slowly.
You stand there.
He gives you a Body Alarm.
You clip it to your heart.
You wait.


Garrett Phelan

Morning yoga, gentle mindful movements, and a sitting meditation are the foundation of my daily practice. I meditate with our local sangha biweekly and facilitate a weekly meditation group in a maximum-security prison in Connecticut. I have been practicing mindfulness meditation over 20 years. Ordained as a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Tiep Hien Order, my wife Jane and I facilitated the Sun and Moon Sangha in Arlington, VA, from 2011-2014. From 2009-2015, I served as editor of Along the Path, the newsletter of The Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax (VA).

Garrett Phelan is the author of Outlaw Odes (Antrim House, 2015), and micro-chapbooks Unfixed Marks and Standing Where I am (Origami Poetry Project, 2014 and 2016). His poems have appeared in a variety of publications including The Mindfulness Bell, Potomac Review, Word Riot, Off the Coast and the Ekphrastic Review. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he was recently awarded third place for the 2018 Nutmeg Award, judged by Ocean Vuong. A teaching artist, Garrett offers poetry classes in the Hartford area, as well as in one of Connecticut’s maximum-security prisons.

More on Garrett Phelan’s work can be found on our Links page