Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of 
Press 53
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 71, April-June 2015
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
3 Poems
by Kelly Nelson
Followed by Q&A

Tell Tale

I set foot
in the Tick Tock Diner
say my mother’s 
maiden name.
“Are you related to…”
“Are you related to…”

I don’t know, am I related?

They tell me he was tall.  
Smart. Athletic. Good 
looking. “He could’ve 
done anything.” 

How come I’ve never heard of him?

Small crack
in the Minnesota nice:
“He was …
  a thug.” 


“All the girls were heart 
broken. He could’ve 
been anything.”

I double back and re-ask, the part about being a thug.
“Oh, Lars shouldn’t have told you that.”  
“Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t find that out.”

Find out that
he was. 

Find out that I am 

    • • •

Here I am
walking these streets
abandoned creamery, empty silos, long-gone train station.

Walking these streets
are people who knew
this uncle I never knew

who remember his name
remember what he’d done

they drop 
silent hints to the stranger
I am here. 

    • • •

Beautiful small town girl
girl who became my mother

you raised me
a reporter, an anthropologist craving
grave goods.

You must have known
I would


dig him up. 

Reading microfilm scrolls at the Otter Tail Library 

Caught in Siege


Man Wanted As Suspect
for questioning
in the slaying
 the rifle-slaying
of a gas station attendant

Sheriffs and deputies
highway patrolmen
agents of the State Bureau 
of Criminal Apprehension

lay in wait
6 a.m. 
Over a loudspeaker
 come out
 hands up
or shots would be

five minutes
a tear 
 gas projectile 

through a window
the window 
 of a cabin
  near Danger 
Lake, a cabin

with cartons
of stolen cigarettes
 radios, flashlights
stolen rifles
and one stolen pistol
boxes of ammunition

three men 
  and two women
came out
 hands up

The Sheriff 
of Clear Water
  the wanted man
as Walter
the brother my mother 
never mentioned she had.

This Boy 
What the English teacher, Gym teacher, Chaplain, Librarian, House Father, Principal and Superintendent said about him at Red Wing Training School for Boys

This boyhas been baptized and confirmed
but has never read the Bible 

reads adventure and mystery stories
though is not to be trusted to properly handle books

is fairly trustworthy
but needs to be held in check 

This boyhas not demonstrated a healthy attitude toward Church activities
though he is very neat and clean about his person

seems always on the verge of mischief
but is not actually in trouble often

seems to give up easily
though he participates in basketball and softball

This boyhas done very well
except for two escapes

gets along well with the group
but doesn’t seem to have any real friends

gets along well in Phy Ed class
except for his excessive use of profanity
more than any other boy in the school​

    • • •

There is a wall here that needs breaking down. 

There is an inherent sullenness 
 a latent resentment
 a smoldering belligerency

 hidden deep within this boy’s make-up.

He needs superior force.

He needsthe teachings of the church. 

He needs the consistent discipline of a farm.

    • • •

This boy asked if he could 
 be placed on a farm
said he would prefer a farm
 to his mother’s home
said he would like to work a farm
 in North Dakota
 though he has no particular farm in mind. 

On a farm the boy
 could prove himself.  
A farm would be valuable
 for his personality adjustment. 

    • • •

Thirteen months later 
two inches taller
twelve pounds heavier 
blank lines on his Visitors Record

this boy is released
to his home town
and his mother. 

Kelly Nelson is the author of the chapbook Rivers I Don’t Live By (Concrete Wolf, 2014). Her poetry has appeared or soon will in RHINO, Quarter After Eight, Found Poetry Review, Another Chicago Magazine and the 2015 Best American Experimental Writing anthology. She received a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts in support of the lyric, found biography she’s writing about her outlaw uncle. She chairs her city’s public art commission and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University. Visit her website at


Q: “Found” poems demand a different skill, to take the words available and shape them into a cohesive poem. Can you talk about the process and pleasures of found versus non-found poetry?

A: I am writing about a man (my uncle) who spent nearly 20 years in prison and generated a very long paper trail. Found poetry provides me with techniques for incorporating the voices of judges, wardens, detectives and psychologists into my poems. The language I’m borrowing from prison records, letters and newspaper accounts helps to capture the 1950s and 1960s in a way my own vocabulary in 2015 might not.

Q: Share with us the experience of digging through a newspaper morgue or ancient microfilm to find the stories that become these poems.

A: One of the most memorable moments from my days spent in archives: a research librarian instructed me to put on white gloves before handling a mug shot of my uncle. 

Q: What kind of dislocations have you experienced, in mediating between the stories told by family and those told by authorities? 

A: I wish there were more family stories about my uncle. He wasn’t talked about. I spent half my life not knowing he even existed. The book I’m writing is very personal to me yet it’s about a person I never met. I’m trying to track down friends and accomplices, people who knew him as an adult, to hear their stories about him.

Q: When did you begin writing, and what was your first publication?

A: I began writing poetry in high school and had my first poem published in a literary journal right after college. Then I stopped, or I should say, I shifted. I worked as a journalist, I worked as an editor, I went to graduate school and studied anthropology. And then, during a snow delay at the Houston Airport in 2009, I returned to writing poetry and have been publishing my work since 2010.