Poem: Fair Wind and Following Seas

For Doug and Cindy

Your mother only knew the comfort
Of gentle beaches with waves that caressed
And never battered holiday bathers.
She only knew the pacific beaches of
The Great Lakes and idyllic Asian islands.

She had never experienced the brutality
Of the Texas Gulf Coast, and she would
Have assumed “riptide” to be a video game
Or pop song, not a lethal feature of
A holiday destination.

And what better way to spend Mother’s Day
Than with your children at the beach?
It’s the stuff of Norman Rockwell cards
And saccharine American traditions.

And you both swam like stars.
You loved the diving board, and
You never left the deep end. You
Were invincible. I remember your
Laughter as you always escaped
In a game of water tag.

It’s easy to nod off at the beach, or
Just break concentration for a
Moment as the breeze kisses your cheek.
In an instant, you may
Realize you no longer hear the
Joyous cacophony of childhood laughter.

In an instant, your sister is gone
Under the punishing waves and against
The unforgiving grain of packed sand.
I don’t know, but I think you tried to
Find her, giving your last
Conscious moments to her aid.

Somehow, your body stayed with us,
On machines, for three more days.
I can’t describe the unreality of those
Days, but it finally ended to the chords
Of “Born in the USA,” which your patriot
Father asked the radio station to play
Over the air as your body
Was finally permitted to lay at rest.

Through the tears, I still chuckled at the
Irony, as you were born in Japan, and
Your father had never listened to
The lyrics of that song.

R Horton

scenic view of ocean during sunset
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No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

statue of jesus
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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

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

20190408203713_IMG_7553.JPGV

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)

adult alone anxious black and white
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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.

A New Riddle of Induction (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 08.26.47We have such unfounded confidence that
The future will be like the past that
We are constantly disappointed in the
Present. The future betrays us daily.

So I can’t be blamed for thinking you’d
Be here still—as you always were.
Thousands of observations told me
You were a survivor and, besides,

You promised you’d never leave.
My imagination has expanded
Regarding the regularity of nature,
But I still look for you in the

Morning Light.

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)

woman lying down
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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.

 

A Pattern of Substance Misuse in Rural Texas (#poem)

woman holding a blunt
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You were always object lesson,
Never role model, and I only knew
I should never be like you.
Your death was early and tragic,
As expected, your last conscious
Moments spent reaching for the door
Of a home engulfed in flame.

Through tear-filled eyes,
Those who had nothing but
Criticism for you when alive
Expressed their own shock and
Grief with a final tinge of judgment.
“If it had anything to do with drugs,
I don’t even want to know,” they sobbed.

At that moment, I think I understood
Both false feeling and blaming the
Victim. No mention of your trauma,
Your alcoholic father, your abuse, or
Your desperate struggle for
Acceptance. For the first time,

I loved you.

The Best Way to Grieve for a Child (#poem #napowrimo)

brown bear plush toy beside pair of toddler s brown and white shoes on ground in selective focus photography
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They never changed that room.
Dolls, teddy bears, trains,
And transformers all hold space,
Lock time in perpetual stasis.
When death comes life stops.

Family said they should pack
Things away. It’s too hard
To be reminded day after day
Of a future lost in the past,
But a room can be a memorial.

It’s a museum of childhood,
Until a child of a later
Generation discovers it with
Glee. New memories are
Born of innocent ignorance.

As the teddy bear rests again
In loving arms, life continues and
Memory grows sweeter and
Stronger through squeals,
Taunts, laughs, and hugs.

On the Disastrous Art of Losing (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

Kisa-GotamiOn our first meeting, she
Described me as a “near Buddhist,”
Meaning, of course, that I had
The ascetic qualities of a monk.
 
And it was true that Siddhartha
Helped me lose my appreciation
For things. You learn first that
Attachment is suffering.
 
But Elizabeth Bishop was more
On my mind. Like her, I had
Lost things every day, and
Most of them didn’t matter.
 
We all get practice losing things,
Of course, and we learn it isn’t
A disaster; lives are nothing
More than crude or elegant mandalas.
 
Everything will be wiped away,
And there is no use torturing
Ourselves with excessive hand-wringing,
Longing, covetousness, or desire.
 
Push on, let it go, they’re only things
After all, and the universe continues
With no pause. And still, I sit
Thousands of miles away
 
Thinking of you.