Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Imagine That You Are A Heroin Addict

[I have photos and videos of a heroin addict under the influence. 

But I don't think you want to see them. They are not pretty.]

Imagine that you are a heroin addict. 

Your total existence is reduced to 

a twilight haze, 

a fully dilated consciousness, 

a white blur of unreality. 

Your entire life force is concentrated on the need to stay high. Food, safety, shelter, sex float only on the edges of your mind. What matters is heroin. 

Scorched foil in your hand. 

Sharp metallic smoke fills your lungs.

Euphoria floods your brain

Heroin is all that matters. 

Because heroin has cost you everything else:

Your job

Your family and friends

Your passion for life

Your self-worth

Your ability to feel anything besides the overwhelming rush of the drugs.

You live in a cage of your own making,

emotionally cut off,

psychologically adrift, 

feeling no pain but no joy either - only the numbing, soaring high of the drugs.

You are floating past your own life without actually standing on Planet Earth and experiencing whatever it is that other humans experience.

Spiritually, you're lost. You're a Christian and you believe very much in God. Sometimes you can see a glimmer of his hand at work in your life; sometimes you dare to believe that he wants more for you. You pray and pray and pray and pray: God, save me! But you don't hear him answer.

Weeks turn into months turn into years turn into decades. This life is all you know. This life is more real than reality. And you begin to believe that:

This is where you belong.

This is all you're good for.

This is what you deserve.

And the only logical result of your agony is more:

More heroin.

More meth, to keep you moving.

More fentanyl. Heroin on steroids. 

This life of addiction is all you can imagine. 

* * * * *

Now, dear reader, you may be thinking, "No, I can't image that I'm a heroin addict. Because I would never let myself become a heroin addict. My parents raised me properly and taught me right from wrong. Since I was a kid, I've known that using drugs is stupid and dangerous. Good, honest, hard work is the only way to get ahead. And I've faced plenty of hardships but look at me now - I've built a good life for myself. Drug addicts are either stupid, lazy, or both, and as far as I'm concerned, our country would be much better off to be rid of them." 

That's fine.

Maybe instead you an imagine that you were born, through no choice of your own, into a life of darkness and dysfunction and addiction. From the instant your cells began to knit together in the depth of your mother's womb, you brain was flooded with chemicals driven by her anger, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse. As an infant, you were passed among your relatives, sometimes flying hundreds of miles from one temporary caregiver to another, because you were no one's priority. You were raised by emotionally abusive alcoholics and their co-dependents, all of whom confused love with secrecy and denial and shame. And for years, you were sexually abused by a neighbor - forcibly raped by someone older and stronger than you - but no one in your family ever noticed or even believed you when you finally broke down and told them. 

If you can imagine those things, then maybe you can imagine why a fifteen-year-old would come to hate himself so much that he'd start using any mind-altering drug he could get his hands on, and why the nirvana of heroin provides him such blessed and necessary relief. 

* * * * * 

Now please imagine that, after seventeen years of this chaos, you decide you want to stop.

Oh sure, you've been through rehab at least a dozen times. Imagine the tangle of insurance forms and phone calls and admittance papers you've faced. How is a person in active addiction supposed to deal with the bureaucratic minutia and endless red tape of finding help to safely detox and get sober? I'll tell you how - most of the time, you're too high and strung out to cope with all the details so you just give up on your lofty dreams of sobriety and head back to the safety of heroin.

Prison is easier. Police reports, public defenders, court dates all appear before you, and you simply do what they tell you to do, dope sick or not, and let the system have its way with you. Yes, it's demoralizing, dehumanizing, and another heavy burden of shame and self-loathing heaped upon your bent back, but at least you don't really have to do much thinking.

Still, over the years, you've learned a lot along the way in your search for healing. You can run an NA meeting at the snap of a finger, and recite the principles of behavioral modification verbatim. You've read dozens of inspiring books about people who have healed their addictions and built beautiful lives for themselves. You've memorized comforting Bible verses that promise God's redemption and mercy. 

Indeed, you've intellectually mastered the science of sobriety, but that's not the same as learning how to stay sober.   

Because it's one thing to quit heroin. Once you get through that first week to ten days of dope sickness, there's a rush of heady optimism that this time is going to be different. You learn how to live. Grilling steaks, playing tennis, watching ESPN Sports Center, going fishing with your son - the joys of normal life come into focus and you feel the sunshine warm on the top of your head.

But inevitably, someone - probably someone in your family - says something thoughtless, hurtful, vengeful, mean. Something that makes you feel that you are nothing, smaller and less significant than a tiny piece of trash. The hardwired agonies of your life light up with shame and your entire body blazes with blinding, searing, unbearable pain.

You hate yourself more than ever. 


Buy a hit. Smoke it up. Feel better.

And now as you fade back into the familiar, fuzzy state of non-being, you no longer imagine that you are a heroin addict. You know for a fact, deep in your bones, that that's all you are and all you will ever be.



Unworthy of love.

Unwanted by God.

* * * * *

But it's okay, you tell yourself. you don't mind. Because the only one who has ever truly loved you is the heroin. And you'll always have each other. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Dear Dylan
My dad walked out of my life when I was ten years old, and over the next five decades, 
gave me a grand total of three gifts. 

The first was this book of poems by Dylan Thomas, and I'm still struggling to read it through. 

Dear Dylan, sir, I must confess
At first, your poems did not impress
In fact, your utter wordiness
Drove my poor head to distress.

The real reason, I soon came to see
Had almost naught to do with thee
But much more likely, chances be
With the one who gifted me.

My wandering dad was such a bum
Our relationship sure made me glum
So when this gift arrived from him
My disappointment did overcome.

But you, my friend, are not to blame
Your rhyming verse was never lame
And so if it is all the same
To you, I'd like to praise your name.

Your poems are among the best.
But of this fact I must attest
Some surely put me to the test
Their meanings I have not yet guessed.

But still I try. Won't let my dad
Lead me to doing something bad
Rejecting an artist I haven't had
Would be an act that makes me sad.

So dear Dylan, on this day
I ask you, sir, to have your way
With me and please, I well do pray,
Just tell me what you're trying to say.

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

Art Fair

During teenage summers in July
Each year 
My mother and I 
Would go to the art fair.

We wandered Ann Arbor streets
Full of art
Looking, buying, not much talking
We experimented with detente.

On those days, we found a way
Past the silence
That otherwise sat between us
Where words couldn't go.

Somehow, the art filled in the spaces
Between us
And though we never planned it
We bought twins.

Now a lifetime later
She is gone
But her art and my art
Are together again on my wall.

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

* * * * *

Other stories about my summer visits to street art fairs:

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Baby Rhymes

Poetry came to my heart 
when I held my first newborn on my lap
and began to read her rhymes.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear,
What do you see?
I see a Red Bird
Looking at me.

She couldn't have understood 
the words but I felt her body fall still
and her breath go soft and smooth.

Catch me & Kiss me & Say it again
Set sail in a cockleshell boat. 
If no one fell out then who stayed in?
Catch me & Kiss me & Say it again!

She tuned in with her whole self, 
watching my face, listening, listening
as I sang the words to her. 

One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry
Hatberry, shoeberry, in my canoeberry.
Under the bridge and over the dam,
Looking for berries, berries for jam.

Soon there were toddlers with me,
dancing and singing and laughing with joy, 
bodies alive with the beats.

Each peach, pear, plum
I spy Tom Thumb.
Tom Thumb in the cupboard,
I spy Mother Hubbard. 
Mother Hubbard in the cellar,
I spy Cinderella. 
Cinderella on the stairs,
I spy the Three Bears.

We read all kinds of stories.
Not every one featured rhythm and rhyme
but those we loved most of all.

Oh my goodness oh my dear
Sassafrass and ginger beer
Chocolate cake and apple punch
I’m too full to eat my lunch!

The poems filled my soul too,
settling into my memory so 
I could sing them all day long. 

See the piggy, see the puddle
See the muddy little puddle
See the piggy in the middle
of the muddy little puddle.
See her dawdle, see her diddle
In the muddy, muddy middle.
See her waddle, plump and little
In the very merry middle. 

In time, my daughters slowed down,
Again sitting still as I read to them
words rich in power and strength.

Kings in crimson, crowns all crystalline
Moving to the music of a single gong.
Watchers in the jungle, moist and mistalline,
Bibble-bubble-babbled to the bing-bang-bong!

Frost, cummings, Whitman, and Yeats:
my girls now read and write their own poems.
But baby rhymes still bring joy.

Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere. 

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

For Myself

"Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance." -Carl Sandburg

 A Michigan winter's morning.

A long walk to the bus stop.

Bundled against the cold, I trudge down the frozen lane past drifting snow.

Under the frosty fingers of trees that brush each other over my head, I am surrounded by the white woods. 

Little six-year-old me is caught unaware by this wild beauty, 

Much to my surprise, a poem suddenly jumps into my head. 

Well. The first line of a poem anyway: 

With an icicle for a spoon and a snowball for his bowl

I see him right there in the field, smiling as I walk by, preparing for his icy breakfast.

 I know he sees me too, and understands. My snowman is real to me. 

Morning after morning, as I pass along this same place on the way to school

The idea of this poem dances again and again in my mind, the snowman as real as ever

And I understand that some day very soon

I'm going to write out the fullness of this snowman's poem.

I'm excited to bring him to life.

Wondrously, just a few weeks later, my teacher asks us to write a poem.

Eagerly, I set down the words that flashed into my thoughts that morning in the lane.

With an icicle for a spoon and a snowball for his bowl

I find great joy in the telling.

Days pass. I wait excitedly to see my grade, to hear my teacher's praise for my poem.

Anticipation builds. I'm sure she will love it; I expect her validation.

Now she slowly makes her way along my row of desks, handing us back our work.

I reach up to take my poem from her outstretched arm and look at her red remarks.

She didn't like it.

I am stunned. Upset. Confused. Hurt, I was so sure my poem was a good poem.

Red-cheeked, I stuff the paper into my desk, and try to understand what this means.

Many years have passed since that day, but I still often think of my snowman poem.

Only today do I finally make sense of what happened.

My teacher thought I wrote that poem to satisfy her assignment.

But really, I wrote it for myself. 

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure: