Poem: Oblique Confessional Poems and Holiday Cheer

If I wanted this poem to be more intimate,
I would address the reader directly, and
invite the reader into my inner world.

I would use second-person pronouns and
share the deeper and darker aspects of
my personality. I would regale the reader
with stories of elation and spiritual fulfillment
along with brutally honest accounts of
self-doubt, anxiety, fear, and loathing.

I might make it a little shocking by offering
raw accounts of emotional terrorism,
suicidal ideation, perversion, and criminality.

I might make the reader uncomfortable,
embarrassed or outraged. But today I want to
keep my distance. I will only tell the reader
the weather is crisp and cool and fine enough
for a pleasant walk. The livestock are neighing,
and braying and crowing in a delightful
cacophony of good cheer. The holidays are
just around the corner, and it’s best
I keep my distance.

Poem: Why You Can’t Find a Master Class on Death

You can find volumes of information
On how to die, but the materials are
All prepared by interns and trainees.
The true masters on the art of dying
Have all lost interest in our struggles
With mortality and how to be shed of it.

Still, we want as much information as
Possible, so we can be prepared when
The time comes. We hang eagerly on
The words of those who nearly died,
Just so maybe we can have a glimpse
Of what it might be like to cross over.

All this anxiety and all this preparation
Despite the fact that no one has ever
Failed on this particular mission.
Sure, some begin the process with
Different levels of equanimity, but
They all seem restful enough in the end.

beautiful black and white close up death
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No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

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As friends solemnly told him to call
On them if ever he needed anything,
Only his pastor was candid enough
To tell him Jesus alone would stay.

And so it was as it had always been,
Walking alone on the beach, in town,
Along the highway, and in the upstairs
Hallway with no memory of being carried.

He supposed Jesus was a faithful companion,
But a bit quiet, and not much help when
A flat needs fixing. He’s someone you can
Always talk to, but feedback is lacking.

And why should Jesus be different from the
Others? Why would the Son of God care
That he was lonely? Why would he look
For Divinity in the deep pools of loss?

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

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People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

On an Emergent Awareness of Impending Death (#fiction #prose #essay)

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Sometimes life just smacks you in the face. You’re just minding your own business and out of nowhere comes a big punch to the gut, or, yeah, a slap to the face or whatever. This mostly happens when you’re young. By the time you reach a certain age, if you are so lucky to live that long, you’ll be punch drunk enough, trust me.

Anyway, that’s why she couldn’t believe her rabbit was dying. No, she wasn’t pregnant or anything—her pet rabbit was riddled with tumors and needed to be put down. She’d never lost anyone that close before, and the tears came in waves. She was inconsolable, as you are when you lose something precious.

So she called her mother for comfort, which is a pretty reasonable thing to do, even for someone who is technically grown up and fully adult. Relying on mothers for comfort is a habit many of us never break until fate forces our hand on the matter. She called her mother and told her the devastating news, but her mother wasn’t really as sympathetic as she had expected, so she was a little crestfallen for a minute.

Her mother listened for a minute or two to the tears and lamentations before saying, “You go on like this for your rabbit when you know I have cancer, too?”

It was true that her mother had cancer and she definitely knew about it, but she was still naïve enough to believe doctors could save lives. She had heard of people surviving cancer, so she assumed her mother would be one of those, not one of the unlucky people you hear about in other families. We’re always pretty sure the worst things won’t happen to us, aren’t we?

She would be sadder and wiser soon enough, and maybe the rabbit served as a kind of omen or preparation for what was to come. Maybe it would help her get through the days, months, and years ahead. When you look back on things, it’s hard to say what helped or didn’t as you can’t imagine how bad things might have been otherwise. Trauma and grief can be pretty all consuming, you know, and your imagination for other possible worlds disappears.

You’re just sort of stuck, boxed in, and frozen.

Anyway, that’s how it all started. Tests, promising results, surgeries, promising outcomes, more tests, different doctors, different hospitals, different promises, and different prognoses were all to follow. Sure, the best of us indulge in magical thinking or just wishful thinking, anything to not indulge in despair, even when despair is rationally the correct choice. You pretend that rabbit cancer is categorically different from human cancer. You pretend doctors are magicians. You just get on with it.

Or sometimes you don’t. You decompensate. You look for comfort in anonymous sex, “mood altering” substances, or purely defiant denial. And you’re done for. Death keeps coming, and you find out you’re strong enough to face it down. I know, some people aren’t strong enough to face it down, but anyone reading this has been strong enough so far, so you’ve been strong for a long time.

Keep it up.

The Peace of Stoicism (#poem)

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The Stoics all counsel the same.
Contemplate life and accept
Death without too much disruption.

They counsel the same when
You are overwrought, but
Flood you with a tsunami of tears
When their turn comes.

Seneca condemned his own sobs;
Confucius angrily defended his,
And I have forgiven them both.
Their failure is my comfort as my own
Tears pour over your last letter.

Passive Voice (#poem)

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Feelings were set aside.
Fists were unclenched.
Tears were discreetly brushed away.

Energy was preserved.
Friendships were maintained.
Shadows were kept at bay.

Family were not alarmed.
Nothing was committed.
There wasn’t much to say.

Energy wasn’t depleted.
The fight wasn’t abandoned.
And no one was killed—today.

Poetry Review: Eight Four: Poems on male suicide, vulnerability, grief and hope

Screenshot 2019-05-29 at 06.00.27If you love men (or even just one man) or you have an interest in male suicide, male depression, male vulnerability, sacrificial masculinity, toxic masculinity or just good poetry, I really think you should pick up a copy of the poetry anthology Eight Four: Poems on male suicide, vulnerability, grief and hope.

Poet, critic, and university lecturer Helen Calcutt launched and curated the anthology after losing her brother to suicide. Verve Poetry Press published the anthology with proceeds benefiting the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. The title of the anthology reflects the staggering statistic that suicide takes 84 men each week in the UK. The causes of suicide are many and varied, and you surely have your own opinions about prevention, but one paragraph from Helen Calcutt’s introduction stuck out for me:

“Women cry, men do not. Men hit women, women don’t hit men. Both examples of what we would consider a socially accepted norm, denies either party their natural complexity. Women do hit men, and though a violent and harmful act, it also highlights a particular type of vulnerability (perhaps a trauma too) that needs addressing. Men weep. It’s probably one of the deepest, moving sounds I have ever heard. Denying this as a normal attribute to male behavior, almost refuses them the bog-standard right to grieve, to shed a skin—to let it out.”

In the end, this is a book about grief but also hope. Many of the poems are from people who have experienced loss to suicide, some from those who experience or at least describe the feelings that lead to suicide, and some are about the possibilities for better lives and better approaches to male vitality.

I don’t want to quote or describe the poems as I think it takes from their power for the reader, but this book is not only for a great cause, it is great poetry. If you love poetry, you are likely to see names you recognise, but you may also be delighted to discover fresh talent. As you would expect, the poems are moving, but never maudlin or overly sentimental.

In Defense of Vile Rottenflush (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-05-24 at 12.51.15The venerable X. J. Kennedy used a poem about “vile rottenflush”
to illustrate bad poetry in his seminal textbook,
Introduction to Poetry.

The poem, he explains, was submitted to the equally venerable
Paris Review, but he does not credit (blame?) the author.
The poem about vile rottenflush, he clarifies, is too personal
and subjective to speak to anyone other than the person who wrote it.
He says, “the author has vented personal frustrations upon words,
instead of kicking stray dogs.”

Who am I to question the wisdom of someone
as accomplished as X. J. Kennedy?
I only know that I remember the phrase “vile rottenflush”
four decades after first hearing it. Also, I think the author of “vile rottenflush”
had witnessed a death of someone much loved, and anyone who has watched
the most cherished people in their lives die might understand the poem, after all.

I think this because the poem also mentions “corpseblood” and “ghastly stench.”
No one forgets the smell of a soul leaving the body.
And no one forgets what they see when life is flushed away.
Perhaps “rottenflush” was a novel way of avoiding the now
clichéd references to “putrefying flesh.”
Perhaps it is a way of reminding the readers
That our blood will cease to flow, pulse, and pump,
Only to be left to pool, drip, and stink.

The author of “vile rottenflush” might be accused of being too direct,
But not too personal. Which of us will not overwhelm
Post mortem viewers and handlers with our own
Ghastly stench, reducing them to cries or horror
As they see their fate clearly in our eyes?

Frequent Death and Daily Disquiet (#poem)

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So many people died that year that I developed
A permanent anxiety about companion mortality.
Guns, cancer, fire, and water all took people from me.

After an absence of a few months, a friend once
Called just to say, “You thought I was dead,
Didn’t you?” My curse amused him immensely.

Once, as my infant son lay resting peacefully, I went
Over to check his breathing. His older brother
Reassured, “It’s okay, Daddy, he’s not dead.”

And you apologise for keeping me awake with
Your fitful sleep, but every cough, sigh, snore, or
Fart only reminds me you are with me awhile longer.

Ever since the change from that time of life,
You have thrown the covers off your body as
If they were on fire, inviting damp coolness

On your skin. As the sweat evaporates and
You slip into a sounder sleep, I touch your
Cool and immobile body with trepidation

Nightly. I don’t want to wake you and disrupt
Your peace, so I lie awake, fretting and alone, to
Ponder this nightly act of solicitous love.