Pit Bull Training

Barrett Price hands me the tattered magazine, a scroll mapping out the kingdom of animal souls, Why I Love My American Pit Bull stamped on the cover. I see him waking that morning in his cell and rifling through his stash of back issues, searching for this one. I can borrow it until Monday, the next time I teach his class, twenty inmates who’ve volunteered for the school program.

Inside, ads for breeders: Barn-Barn and Red Chief pups–get one now! And grainy pictures of pits–hulking, barrel-chested, squat bow legs and anvil heads filled with rows of shark teeth. Lolling tongues, grimaces, and smiles. In the background, dirt roads and patches of sparse grass, trailer park tableaus, tin roofs and mesh fences you could stick your fist through. Similar to Rikers, barbed wire, chirping alarms, four am. suicides.

Barrett’s got two champion pits on his uncle’s farm in North Carolina: one brindle and one red, taking turns hanging from a tire swing lashed to an old oak. Testing their jaw strength, he’d fill a kiddie pool with ice-cold water and drag it under the suspended dogs, waiting for one to drop.

Approaching jail, I glance at a seagull tangled in razor wire, its wings splayed, larger than I imagined. Mites devour its eyes, planes soar over- head, destined for LaGuardia. Dogs and men pace inside cages. Ruthless canines. Breeders match dogs. Girlfriends take their men into corners of the visiting room and discreetly lift their skirts. Mating fields raked into scorched grass. Birth given in project hallways, or beneath concrete blocks lifting trailers off the ground. How much space inside your skull do you need to breathe?

Brandon Lamson is the co-author of Houston Gothic (2006), a collaborative chapbook written with Chris Munde. After teaching inmates on Rikers Island for three years, he is now a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston. His poems have appeared in Brilliant Corners, Hunger Magazine, Pebble Lake Review, and elsewhere.