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Pamela Hart

Spring Snow Prison Pantoum


Wipers ticking against car windshield

While snow dissolves on glass.

March light widening like the nearby woods

I wait before class in the prison parking lot.


Spring snow dissolves, the glass is cold.

I daydream of shallow vernal pools

Waiting before class in the prison parking lot

And the potter’s field hidden by slush


Imagines a song of restive graves

One hundred names gone to ground.

The cemetery rouses its eager ghosts

Alert with beginner’s hungry mind.


One hundred names unseen by history.

My words unable to unmake 

the dead. Their stories awaken,  

Startling the daydream of vernal pools.


Words stutter and harden in the potter’s field.

Meanwhile, snow fades on empty branches.

Shimmer of spring on icy glass

Stories melting forgotten markers.


Winter escapes over tree and road.

March ghosting widely to free the names

I look with restless icy mind

As wipers click in the parking lot.

For Susan Z, 17, Who Escaped Bedford Women’s Reformatory April 1927

And Was Captured in New York City One Month Later Dressed as a Boy

According to the New York Daily News


Who threw herself under split rail 

running toward the stream – she’d heard


its hum – dodged the lights skipped over skunk cabbage

into a polyphony of oak and owl  


Among sugar maples she was no more Bedford no uplift

she’d keep her ruined self the body they’d tied


She was a tulip tree – headed for the city – 

tall resistant in pursuit of bliss not woe but mad


Who had waywardness and learned to sew

Cut her curls – hid them in quaking aspen – 


What of shame what of the murderous heart

Bolt bolt the train barked 


Who in the news photo holds hand to face

as if to recall its brief flight 

Noisy Sunday in Bedford: An Erasure

            From the New York Times January 1920


Women howling


the reformatory

their disorders

defied their keepers

we want

we want

we don’t want to stay here

The women



they were exhausted

Salient Facts: The New York State Reformatory for Women, Bedford Hills 1926

Fragments from the Report


Because women



from the great city

because foreign born


congested quarters

because economic


or social difficulties




receiving stolen goods


assault forgery burglary

life in the underworld


Because the hills

of Westchester County


three hundred farm acres

Mrs. Haley Fiske said



for example training


laundry farming 

music athletics


the gymnasium

arts crafts



like children’s dresses


bath robes surgeons’ 

gowns brassieres

cooking including 

confections of a high grade



twice a week


Because women 

need discipline


not strait jackets

no handcuffs


though restraining sheet

corrective for the normal


the feeble-minded

neurotic taints


from a medical standpoint

Because women requiring 


specialized training 

to awaken their spiritual



latent energies


develop strong 

maternal instinct


Because women in purity

of thought and deed


though stumbled 



in trades and occupations

restored returned



to salvage


by the institution

consecrated among the hills


Mrs. Haley Fiske of the Board of Directors of the Bedford Reformatory for Women Reports to the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the House of Good Shepard April 1931


Consider that the reformatory is educational. No strait jackets or handcuffs are used. We are trying to educate. Studies of personality are made. Confinement for the girl who may need some disciplining. Deprivation of privileges. A girl may use a well-equipped gym. A girl may attend a dramatic class. There may be a restraining sheet for psychopathic cases. We are an educational institution. These sheets are used in all the hospitals in the state. We educate girls committed. 


Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY, where she teaches and manages arts-in-education programs in schools and correctional facilities. Her book, Mothers Over Nangarhar, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton prize, was published in 2019 by Sarabande Books. She was a 2020 New York Foundation for the Arts poetry finalist. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in poetry. In addition, she has served as poetry editor for Afghan Voices, the Afghan Women's Writing Project and As You Were: The Military Review and as non-fiction reader for Consequence Forum, a journal on the consequences of war and geopolitical violence. Her poems have been published in various online and print journals.  


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