His thin lips struggled to hide a pus-white canker
above bucked, front teeth. It’s colour
Always struck my adolescent nerves,
Dull as a dandelion, eclipsed by pock marked
Cheeks and a tongue that rolled with a flat,
Michael’s Dachshund was every ounce
Of sleek and smooth that fled
From the freckle, fucked face
Of his owner. Sable black-bright lines
Reflected miniscule blades of light
Through his short hairs-
As stubby legs kicked first in circles
Then straight back and forth
The way a cur does when it aims
To claw. It’s body, long and hairless
On the belly, twists with a new
Sense of encroaching threat.
The blue bag sports a smiling,
Yellow face and offers eternal
Low prices, but Wincy wants
None of it. Michael strikes
The dog with the ball
Of his fist once.
It feels pain but continues
To contort in odd, almost back-
Twice. The worm falls limp
And the hormone addled
Cretin wields an ogreish
Strength to shove
The innocent welp inside.
As his hands whirl
In flourishes, the dog’s
World becomes a shouting
Shade of blue.
He can’t see it. He can’t
See the pond either.
Michael may hit orgasm
As he spins the creature
In a perfect discuss
Gravity fails. It’s stomach
Lifts like a figure skater
And spins as vomit
There is no sign
Of struggle. The shape
And dragon flies
Ignore the plash
As they bask clear
Wings in the dark
Maroon of an evening
A thrash here,
A wrenching, convulsing
The pain in it’s face
Robs all ability
To fight a final
Sinking. When the bubbles
Paces. His breath quick
As he pulls from an inhaler.
Of ozone and dirt drifts
He tries to laugh. But only
Anyone who reads this blog for my occasional stance on education policy will know my avid opposition to rising standardized testing and increasing rigors we place upon our children. I find it shocking how recess in my local schools continues to be whittled down more and more for a curriculum whose primary focus is “training” my child solely for tasks to prepare them for rote memorization. Pile on homework, constant evaluation, and a mix of socially stunted kids with no outlet to express their individualism and what you have is a pressure cooker of mental illness that gets more and more intense with each year.
This system is inflicting both intellectual and emotional harm to our students. It is time for our society to discuss the rights of children to develop in more natural, nurturing ways, and one of the best models for this potential shift can be found in the language of the growing LGBTQ advocacy.
I have been very attentive to the developing arguments centering around increasing the rights and empathy for LGBTQ individuals and have noticed a potential connection between our shifting social climate and the way we institutionalize our children. The environment of someone identifying as LGBTQ has profound effects on their health depending upon whether they live in a supportive or oppressive location. For those who must hide their true nature, the health effects and increasing rates of suicide are shocking. It is truly a devastating mental health hazard to imprison one’s true self in shadow for fear of persecution.
Consider for a moment the rate of depression, obesity and mental illness that plagues our country. A great deal of that malaise may be directly related to the oppressive nature of education. We rob children of freedom. We snatch away the concept of play and replace it with grinding gears and grades that constantly question their self worth. We compartmentalize them, separate them according to age group, and demand a homogenous learning process that makes almost no allowance for individual learning processes or styles.
Is it any wonder we are miserable and medicating ourselves with junk food and antidepressants? Is it any wonder that our teens anguish and melt away as their creativity and divergent thinking wither to nothing?
We are killing our children. We are killing them not just in the physical, stopped heart, suicide kind of way. We are killing the very person that they are. We are exterminating the individual they could become. All of this plays out in service not in an attempt to develop a better self, but to train the child as a better product for the job they will one day be damned to perform.
We can do better than this. We MUST do better than this.
A few years ago, I spent some time in a psychiatric center. I experienced a nervous breakdown after a promotion at work and a tumultuous merger between our school and another technical college. I sometimes fear that my depression took a small part of me far away, that I have somehow diminished as a result of my illness raging out of control to a point of meltdown. Many people warned me that the mental hospital would forever destroy my life, that somehow admitting to psychiatric problems would condemn me to an eternity of nervous looks and harsh judgement. I believe I have brought back something of use.
I have come to the conclusion that good poetry must rise up from an over-abundance of living. I was never one to share my poems outside of very specific venues and would never consider myself a “good” poet, but lately I am beginning to own my work and share it with confidence. I don’t think that would have been possible without a trip down a personal hell. I do hope to share a bit of wisdom gained from that journey.
Anyone who has taken a creative writing course will remember the phrase “show, don’t tell.” This should be easy enough to understand as creative writing must strive to appeal to the senses and evoke imagery. But for poems, I have a new mantra that has served me just as well. In the hospital, I learned about the sheer emotional power of traumatic experiences and the need to connect with the memories of them. Failing to connect with trauma as it is discussed elicits emotions from the person hearing it. It is important to remember one’s role in therapeutic discussion and take care not to inflict emotional pain on others as we seek healing.
In poetry it is different. A stark and terrifying effect can be achieved as one dissociates from trauma. This hint of sociopathy magnifies the emotional power of verse as the speaker refuses to connect with material. If the speaker doesn’t show emotional inflection, the reader must. This device demands that a reader encounter the imagery and respond. There is no escape. I have observed this effect in detail when I have read my poem “Anencephaly Blues” outloud.
if its life could know blessed relief had his brain been formed
outside the skull.
A mother-mourning its life-wraps a blue/pink striped
blanket around the fragile gray matter—an attempt
to warm the failed vessel for his soul. Six hours of life
cherished and loved, feeling no pain.
When I read this poem, all eyes settle on me. Reading verse always runs the risk of an audience zoning out or diving into their phones. This piece has never failed to draw people in, even if they have no experience with poetry at all. This technique comes from sociopathy, or the kind of shell shock a person disappears into when stress leaves their mind a blasted and blank field of craters. Wordsworth defined poetry as a “spontanous overflow of powerful feelings.” I disagree. It is not enough to feel strong emotions. One must inflict them and draw them out of the reader.
For more poetry check out my self published work on Amazon
Check out a reading of Anencephaly Blues on my youtube channel.
I grew up practically bombarded with horrifying or comedic images of childbirth. Weather a movie made a traumatic scene of a mother agonizing over the natural (willing or not) birth of her child, or the sitcom couple stumbled into a natural birth through some buffoonery, it always played out with some degree of screaming, blood, and near insanity as the male characters would swoon or gag, often both. It was a weird image, and one I honestly internalized. I always expected a delivery room to be a place of chaos, screaming, and the intention of violence toward the father as the mother lashed out against the world in pain.
To be fair, those scenes do play out and they may even be quite common. But for my first child, the birth was nothing like anything I had ever seen or read. It’s a story that I hope is common, but I fear not many women (or men) get to experience birth as the deep, existential exploration that unfolded before me.
To start, the maternity ward itself was a rather quiet place. The lights were dim and new mothers certainly didn’t hold back expressing the pains of labor, but the facility seemed designed to take these sounds and disperse them through winding halls, dotted with wood panels. Somehow the place maintained an unexpected serenity. The hospital was also quite happy to accommodate my wife’s wish for a natural birth, something other doctors discouraged later.
When labor started, my anxiety began to rise with each quickening set of beeps on the heart monitors and my wife’s growing withdrawal to a world inside her head. I planned to be holding her hand, rubbing her back and feeding her ice chips as the process intensified. But my wife went to a place of deeper strength, falling silent, breathing the way many guided meditations suggest, and moving her hips in slow, steady circles to not necessarily alleviate the pain of contractions, but maybe more to process and smooth the sensations out.
“Can I get you something? What can I do?” I had a nervous cadence as I hovered to her side. I wasn’t Ross from Friends or Kevin Costener from Robin Hood, but I desperately pretended to be.
“I need you to stop talking.”
Some men would have been insulted. Some men would have wrote off the exchange and gone back to watching Pro-wrestling highlights on their phone. I was awed. My wife, the soon to be mother of my child was weathering a storm of new life forcing it’s way through her very being. Obviously there was no way I could hope to alleviate her suffering, but the mere fact that my presence had divided her attention to the trance she had built in her mind meant that I presented more of a threat to her well being than a comfort. She needed silence. That was ALL she needed.
I sat and tried to process all of this.
I sometimes tell my friends that I love my wife partly because I know she could beat the snot out of me if she wanted to. This moment revealed that. I could never deal with pain the way she did that day. I have to moan and cry and vocalize my discomforts so that others are constantly aware of my suffering. The love of my life internalized them, kept them bottled up within herself and snuffed out the flames burning within her. I likened her calm to the supreme strength of a meditating monk or a Buddha reaching enlightenment. I respected and adored my wife before she gave birth, now my feelings for her are closer to worship. She is a faith I keep with devotion and zeal.
This strength does not always present itself. Our third child produced more than a few agonized cries, but he was nearly ten pounds so we can excuse that. But trust me gentlemen, it is there within all mothers if you look for it. Birth is the chance for men to gaze directly into the infinite strength and power of a woman. Once you see it, there is nothing to do but cower before it. It is humbling. I hope all men have the strength to see it for themselves.
For more non-fiction writing, check out my essay collection Meditations on Bad Faith.
We wash the children and let them drown.
Unity withers under a dim and Balkan sun
As “passionate intensity” seizes the helm.
The virtue of peace cannot stand
In the thrill of blood’s release. The weak
Are faggots, wood piled high as books
In a black and white nation’s birth.
Familiar salutes, shaved heads,
Masked faces, and public brawls
parade about our home on glowing
Sets as another over cooked meal
Forces its path down our throats.
Greatness has a price and our
Credit stretches so that next month
We must choose which child to not feed.
The bulbs burn out in the house,
And it will be darker than darkness
Before relief even begins
a slow, unenthusiastic march
Through the days. Cold in the heart
Cuts the skin. If we cannot feed
Ourselves, perhaps it is best
To begin the dreadful, nauseating
Ritual we have avoided
For so long. In the past we have,
And will again, consumed each other.
Though this time, we may not
Have the luxury of exchanging
Our children with neighbors.
We may, in the end,
Be forced to eat our own.