Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer.

Our current guest editor is Tina Gross.

Tina Gross presents From My Classroom Window at the Prison, before Students Arrive * by Michael Torres * and says this about Michael’s work:

I’m a recent alum of the same MFA program as Michael (MNSU Mankato), and so I’ve had the privilege of being in many poetry workshops with him. (During my first year/his last we were classmates, and by my final (six years later) he had become a professor in the program and was on my thesis committee!) If you haven’t read his book An Incomplete List of Names, not only should you do so immediately, I would suggest that you go directly to Michael’s website, where you can order a gorgeous graffiti-signed copy. This poem makes reference to teaching in the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary. (Its annual reading, at which instructors read student work, is the most powerful literary event you’ll ever see. This year and last it has been held online, so you can watch the recordings on the MPWW’s YouTube channel.) 

From My Classroom Window at the Prison, before Students Arrive by Michael Torres

Because the blinds stay open, I see birds. I watch how
men watch those birds. They monitor flight paths 
and a soaring appetite for the crumbs they shouldn’t’ve

pocketed from chow. The indifferent birds ask for nothing, 
yearn for nothing, except perhaps the sky, which is nothing 
to them but magnetic blue wind—their one great war 

of journey. I’ve been thinking about mine lately. My own 
great war. Once, I met a man who’d been waiting hours 
for a storm to hit. At the park, he told me how difficult flight is 

for birds. He stared at the humming sky and disappeared. Later
that night, I could not fall asleep. Not with a fact like that. Instead, 
I sat at my coffee table and fed a dying rubber fig tree

filtered water and the eggshells I broke apart, calling them 
my little countries. I thought of being president. Then I asked 
myself, why can’t I be king? When I arrived at the idea 

of God, I began to float. When I woke, I understood 
my only burden is that of a simple life of a man who can go home 
and think and care for plants that do not know 

he is their father. If I am no one to these leaves, to whom 
do I belong? Thus, my great war is with myself. A wingspan 
of stirring thoughts that ask what’s next, that wait for my response 

like the men beyond this window. Breadcrumbs, tiny questions 
for birds. Each man tossing a piece at the air anticipates a swooping 
answer, tries not to think of what goes uneaten, of what falls 

towards death. Wet and certain. That patch of grass they walk, 
its cold blades. It’s late October. Every step stiff and speechless.



Michael Torres was born and brought up in Pomona, California where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. His debut collection of poems, An Incomplete List of Names (Beacon Press, 2020) was selected by Raquel Salas Rivera for the National Poetry Series and named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020. His honors include awards and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CantoMundo, VONA Voices, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, and the Loft Literary Center. Currently he’s an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a teaching artist with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Visit him at: michaeltorreswriter.com

[*previously published in Ploughshares (Winter 2018-19) and An Incomplete List of Names (Beacon Press 2020)]