Taps For Sgt. Salinger


by John Samuel Tieman

J. D. Salinger died on the 27th of January.   He is best known as the author of one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the twentieth century, The Catcher In The Rye.   A contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, he made many notable contributions to literature, including Nine Stories and the novella, Franny and Zooey.

What is less well known is that, as a young man, he served with the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division.

A few months after Pearl Harbor, Salinger was drafted into the army.   He was twenty-three.   He did his basic training at Fort Dix, and was assigned to the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth.

Salinger carried a portable typewriter everywhere.  He remained a prolific author throughout the war.   In 1942, he published “Personal Notes Of An Infantryman” in Collier’s.

In 1943, because of his fluency in French and German, Salinger trained in counter-intelligence at Fort Holabird in Baltimore.

In 1944, Salinger published “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” and “The Last Day Of Furlough” in The Saturday Evening Post.   In March, he transferred to England, where he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division.

On the 6th of June, 1944, J. D. Salinger landed on Utah Beach.   He went on to participate in five of the bloodiest campaigns of World War II, including the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle Of The Bulge.   The son of a Polish Jew, who sold kosher cheese in Manhattan, Salinger was one of the first translators at the liberation of a concentration camp, an event that scarred him profoundly.   Interestingly, it was during the liberation of Paris that Salinger met Ernest Hemingway.

Staff Sergeant Jerome David Salinger was honorably discharged in November of 1945.



by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

    Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
    My eyes are flowers for your tomb

So Merton wrote in “For My Brother: Reported Missing in Action, 1943.” Merton’s brother John Paul was killed after his plane crashed in the North Sea during a bombing mission. He was pulled from the water into a rubber dinghy but died there three hours later. His body was buried at sea.

I thought of Merton as a result of a previous blog piece I wrote, about the poetry of Episcopal priest Louie Skipper. By the time I sat down to write here, we’d had the news about Afghanistan. I thought of Merton’s poem for his brother as a subtext for Obama’s decision to send in 30,000 additional troops.

The sleepless eyes becoming flowers on a beloved brother’s tomb is an image that is strange, utterly moving and unfortunately completely timely once again.


I’ve always called up those first two lines of Merton’s poem faithfully, as a kind of mantra, or so I thought. However when I went back to look the poem over again in preparation for this blog entry, I was surprised to find my memory had altered them.

Though I recollected the first line accurately, Merton’s second line had morphed into:

    Sweet brother, if I do not sleep,
    Let my eyes be flowers for your grave.

The rhythms, the feeling, the idea, the untranslatable grief embedded in the language had taken up residence inside me, but as an adopted child with different genes.

Who knows why this happens. We respond to something so strongly we want to commit it to memory. So: We do but (without intending to) we may change its tune. (I’ve found this with so many poems I’ve memorized; each time I think I have remembered/recited exactly, only to find later I’ve changed a word or left one out.) Perhaps some peculiar inborn rhythm of our own insists on its own way in the world, even when we’re paying homage to someone else’s poetry? Or it might be simple inattentiveness, faulty recall.

Merton’s mother wrote that, even as a tiny child he would run out into the garden waving his arms at the vivid scene, singing and crying “O sun!” and “O color!” She had him pegged as a poet early on.

Even if we didn’t exhibit the lingual joy in the world Merton seems to have, perhaps we poets are all born with a similar idiosyncratic cadence of utterance inside us.


Why did I change “tomb” to “grave”?  I don’t really know.

“Tomb” is more monumental, stately, “permanent” than a simple grave in the earth, but it’s also—to my ear—emotionally colder and (despite names, dates, dedications) somehow more impersonal. Perhaps that is exactly why Merton chose that word over the other.

John Paul’s tomb was an icy nightmare sea between warring countries. You can’t get more impersonal—or more personal—than that.

“For My Brother: Reported Missing in Action, 1943” can be found in The Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton. New Directions Publishing, 2005.

A Commentary

by John Samuel Tieman

Concerning public schools, we know all we need to know about educational reform.

So what do teachers, principals and administrators know about reforming the public schools? Where do we begin?

Four points. We need order in our schools. We need teachers to be empowered. We know that instruction should be individualized. We know that we should have smaller, intimate classes.

First things first. Discipline. One of the most radical acts the public schools could perform would be to enforce their disciplinary policies as they are written. This is not about being punitive: it is about bringing order. Numerous educational reformers present their program by saying, “When I was a principal, I got a grip on discipline first, then I implemented this program.” The problem is that reforms are imposed, but discipline is not. Any orderly school can implement almost any program it wants. Without discipline, all reforms are doomed.

Teachers and administrators tell tales of students who walk the halls all day, students who assault staff and go unpunished, students who constantly disrupt classes. Much of the problem has to do with funding. In most states, public schools are funded according to the number of kids in the seats. Administrators are pressured to keep down the number of suspensions and expulsions. That pressure is passed along from the central office to the school office to the classroom. I witnessed an incident wherein a boy assaulted a teacher, then put his fist through a window. This boy was in that teacher’s class the next day.

It is worth emphasizing that fault lies not with administrators, principals or teachers. The solution lies in reforming state funding.

Likewise it should be emphasized that true discipline is not about submission: discipline is about a form of order that furthers educational dialogue.

Secondly, teacher empowerment. We always talk about teacher empowerment. The very fact that we always talk about it is proof that we never do it. The reason is simple. Elected and appointed politicians, meaning boards and administrators, are going to have to give-up some power.
by John Samuel Tieman

Teachers are a bit like the Queen of England. We have the right to be advised, and we have the right to consent. Like the queen, often we don’t even have the right to choose our own words. For example, I once taught a program that was entirely scripted. “Teacher-proof education.” I have a Ph. D. and thirty-five years as a certified teacher, yet I was not empowered to choose my very words. It was a bad program, and every teacher in that school knew it was, in fact, counterproductive. But we could do nothing. There is no power unless the individual owns at least one word, “No.”

I remember this workshop. A teacher asked a question of an administrator. The teacher began in a self-deprecating manner, but the administrator interrupted, saying, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid teachers.” Not one teacher said a word. Why? We have so little power.

My third point is the need for individualized instruction. There is a trend in society in general, in education in particular, toward one-size-fits-all reforms. In foreign policy, spreading freedom means converting countries to the Madisonian formula for governance. That and that alone. In the our school districts, schools are forced to adopt one-size-fits-all programs like Step-Up To Writing and Open Court and Direct Instruction, despite the near universal objection of teachers to one-size-fits-all programs. In truth, these are perfectly fine programs when implemented on a basis that limits them to students who need them. In a district where there is great diversity, there are limits to any one program. Instruction needs to be varied and various. The problem with such a singular vision is that its limitations are likewise singular, which is to say that such an implementation inherently contains the formula for its ossification.

Lastly, we need smaller classes. Twelve should be the maximum. Ten is better than that. Wherever possible, these classes should be in a neighborhood setting. The object is intimacy. Unfortunately, we have gone in the opposite direction. We have closed neighborhood schools. Teachers often manage huge classes I know a sixth grade teacher, a truly inspired woman, who had a class of forty-six. I will forever remember her crying outside her classroom. She left teaching shortly thereafter. She is not unusual.

Nothing I have said here is new. But, in simply doing what we know we need to do, these four points would be radical reforms. Fortunately, teachers, principals and administrators know all we need to know in order to implement these reforms. We know where to begin.

In Defense of Luddites

by Michael Simms
Editor-in-Chief of Autumn House Press and Coal Hill Review

Most people over the age of 50 nowadays have an attitude toward technology similar to mine, I think.  I use technology everyday.  I depend on it to do my job, practice my art, and maintain my social contacts, but I’m leery of it.  It seems to fail when I most depend on it, and I often lack the requisite skill to fix the problem, whatever it is, so I’m continually frustrated by its undependability.  And if I need to do something beyond email, word-processing, and basic website maintainence, then I feel stupid and incompetent.

However, Coal Hill Review is not a community of techies; it is a community of poets, writers, and readers, and in these skills, people of my age and background often excel.  Although we have a number of younger writers involved in our community, including Joshua Storey, Bernadette James, and Evan Oare — all in their twenties — most of our chapbook submissions and almost all of our blogs have come from professional writers and teachers over the age of 50 .  We don’t want any of our contributors to feel shut out because they didn’t grow up with computers.  We are working to make CHR as user friendly as possible, even for Luddites and borderline Luddites like myself.


A Very Catholic Reformation

by  John Samuel Tieman 

      I am a Roman Catholic.   I was not surprised last month when I read of yet another pedophile priest.   Nor was I surprised by the cover-up.   But I was shocked to hear that two boys, ten and fourteen, were administered a solemn oath, on peril of their immortal souls, not to reveal that they were molested by Fr. Lawrence Murphy of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. 

      We need a new Reformation.   The last one started with the selling of indulgences.   The current estimate is that 4% of all priests are sex offenders.   That is one in twenty-five.   I doubt that 4% of sixteenth century priests sold indulgences.  

      Catholicism is a universal call to holiness.   But a call to holiness is not a call to a static state.   Holiness is change.   Holiness is transition.   Holiness is reformation. 

      Holiness is reconciliation.   We need to publicly confess, in the simplest terms, that our priests committed felonies, and our bishops conspired to cover-up of rape and molestation.   

      Catholics are in the business of mercy and justice.   But as there can be no justice without mercy, so there can be no mercy without justice.   Only then can there be forgiveness.   But the problem is not as simple as throwing felons into jail.   Many of the pedophiles, like Fr. Murphy, are dead.   In other cases, statutes of limitations prevent prosecutions. 

      How, then, do we achieve reconciliation? 

      We need a new Reformation filled with more questions than answers.   This reform must be unitary, one in which ministers and laity participate equally.   Any reform, led solely by bishops, is doomed to failure because – and this cannot be said too bluntly – our bishops, as a group, now lack moral credibility.   

     One place to start is with what we Catholics do well, public penance.   We could, for example, set-up panels modeled on South Africa’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission.   Ideally, these panels would be both national and diocesan.   Victims of sexual abuse would be invited to give witness to their experiences.   Perpetrators, and the Church officials who shielded them, should also give testimony.   The mandate of the commission would be to record, to reflect, to reconcile, and to form the questions that lead to further dialogue. 

      It is worth noting that I refer to reconciliation that in essence is relational.   Such reconciliation does not shield anyone from criminal prosecution.   Nor am I oblivious to the fact that one cannot change the sexual orientation of a pedophile, any more than one can change the orientation of a heterosexual or a homosexual.   I speak here of the healing of the emotional wounds.   We despise abusers.   We feel betrayed by bishops.   The greatest danger is in leaving these feelings unexplored.   It is easy to despise pedophiles.   But there is much risk when we despise the mentally ill.   There is also a certain hazard in using his worst decision as the measure of a bishop’s entire career.   These risks, these hazards, lead to the closing of our hearts, which leads to the closing of our minds, which leads to the closing of our church doors.   There can be no reform without dialogue.   And dialogue is nothing if it is not the promise to stay in relationship. 

      One dialogue that is not happening, one that must happen, concerns celibacy.   Many feel that celibacy is a terrible idea, a medieval vestige like self-flagellation.   Asceticism will always be with us.   It can be a healthy choice for a few people.   A very few.   But celibacy is a problem also.   Celibacy does not cause pedophilia.   It causes isolation.   If the Archbishop of Milwaukee had a ten year old son, he never would have protected Fr. Murphy. 

      How did we come to this?   Why did we come to this?    I am not suggesting answers.   I merely am suggesting ways to frame the questions.   That we are in a state of transition, this is all that is clear.   To what we are transitioning?   Who knows?.   I sometimes wonder if I am a member of a dying religion.   Are we Catholics destined to become the Zoroastrians of the West, colorful but irrelevant to the larger culture?   Or are we on the cusp of a great revival in the Church?   I don’t know.   But unless we open ourselves to dialogue, we surely will die of the silence.


Outward Bound in the Wilderness of the Mind

by Elizabeth Kirschner

We’ve all been riveted by survival stories—those who survive shipwrecks, live on berries in the woods, withstand Artic cold for days on end. In this way we learn that the human capacity to survive extreme circumstances is quite large. Some, perhaps many, have gone on Outward Bound journeys, been solo, recorded the rigors in journals and notepads. Even my son spent one summer in a program called “Odyssey.” He hiked day after day in nearly monsoon rains, climbed the rock face, canoed in white rapids. I actually worked in such a program, took delinquent teens into the wilderness to climb mountains, learn survival skills. Nonetheless, there is another kind of survivor story, one poets are often subject to, one that I have been excruciatingly subject to and will be for the rest of my life and that is the ability to survive in the wilderness of the mind.

Countless poets have lost their lives in the wilderness of the mind, a whole generation—Plath, Sexton, Lowell, Berryman—it’s a long list, an elite list of elite writers. Twice, and twice is two times too many, I have almost joined them by trying to do myself in as I did this past spring by taking an overdose of medications meant to steady my unsteady brain and downing them with wine. Somehow or other, a friend figured out what I was up to, called 911, saved my life. I lost consciousness in the E.R., woke up hours later in Intensive Care.

My life is governed by my mental illness which blasts me, again and again, with bouts of madness or by assaulting me with memories of abuse so virulently violent I can barely withstand them. I’m talking about psychic pain so intense I’m nearly annihilated by it like an angel pinned to the very pinhead she is meant to dance on. I believe that this pain, not anger or revenge, is what drives so many poets into massively creative self-destruction.

Every serious writer of poetry goes on an outward bound journey in the wilderness of the mind because that’s where poems live. In this wilderness which, at best, causes us to drop our jaws in wonder over its magnificence or, at worst, pushes us way beyond what we can withstand. It is amazing what a poet, or at least this poet, will endure in order to achieve that most difficult of things—a poem that will take root, take flight at the same time.

And there are so many failures, so many times when the wilderness is too vast and without paths or stars to navigate by—the path, a line, the star, a word—that we wander aimlessly like lost children in the deep, dark forest. The poem, then, can be seen as a cry from that wilderness and all poems are created with the intent to be outward bound.

A paradox then—by nature poets are inwardly bound, must go in deep, penetrate an inferno of silence, dredge for words in the very gut that nearly guts us, then carry them outward to a world which is all too often indifferent to the miracle work involved with the making of the poem.

There is, undoubtedly, a wild side to poetry—some can be wildly beautiful, others wildly witty, but each one asks us to go willingly into the wilderness of its maker. I say, let’s stake our tents there, build a fire, set off a few sparks that might just ignite a poem or two. Each of us has a survival story that needs to be told, given shape and proper form. Mine may be horrifically graphic with an edge that cuts way too deep, but it is mine, all mine.

On Humility: A Commentary

by John Samuel Tieman

I read the other day about the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the duel in which Hamilton was mortally wounded and Burr politically ruined.

This tragedy is a bit of a mystery.   No one can say why, at some point, they didn’t withdraw from the duel.   But I have a good guess.

They lacked the humility.

Humility is associated with religious values.   It is generally thought to be a private concern.   But humility has cross-over value.   It is a virtue that is in service to others, because humility is the essence of dialogue.   And politics without dialogue is mere tyranny.

A humble dialogue presumes a simple skill.   Listening.   That simple skill, however, has some demanding habits.   The habit of validating the concerns of others.   The habit of suspending one’s own bias.   The habit of recognizing the full humanity of another.   All these have serious implications for civic discourse.

True humility is liberating, because it allows citizens to understand their role within the larger community.   In this sense, humility is the quintessential civic virtue.

Civic humility begins in a question.   Is public discourse better served by my silence?

Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no.   But history is not lacking for instances wherein the community, religious and secular, would have been better served by more silence and less chutzpah.

The Catholic Church would be better-off if most bishops had listened to victims of sexual abuse, if bishops had let the justice system do its work.

Iraq would be better-off if Pres. Bush had listened to, well, the world.

Humility might have given our country some insight into the history and culture of Vietnam.

And, yes, Hamilton and Burr might have had many more years of public service if they practiced a bit of humility.

Civic humility is a virtue in service to the local level as well.   Aldermen, for example, would be better served by listening to the poor rather than dictating to them.

It is worth taking a moment to note what humility is not.   Humility is not a neurosis that leaves one immobile.   Humility is not self-loathing.   Nor does humility imply that people devalue their insight, lucidity or expertise.   Above all else, humility is not a disguised version of pride.   Thomas Jefferson didn’t invent democracy.   He listened to great philosophers, then took-up his pen.

It is worth repeating that humility is not self-effacement.   For example, the G. I. Bill transformed the nation, and this veteran, for one, is glad people spoke forcefully in favor of it.   I am equally grateful to the people who listened.

As music is defined by sound and silence, so too is dialogue made-up of respectful speech and humble listening.   And I mourn for the loss, these days, of this respect, this humility.

With the exception of the Watergate crisis, I cannot recall a time when the divisions in our country were so rigid and acrimonious.   Everybody has the answer, and nobody has the answer.   Bishops tell parishioners to sit-down and shut-up, and parishioners tell bishops to sit-down and shut-up.   The poor live on one side of town, and the rich on the other.   CEO vs. union.   The US vs. the UN.   Rural vs. urban.   Does anyone doubt that, during the next election, there will be vicious attack ads that midlead the public?

Where’s the humility?

A republic is defined by its dynamic dialogue.   Such a dialogue presumes the give-and-take of loyal opposition.   To put it differently, we are a great nation because we have the freedom of speak.   But that’s only the first half of the equation.   When we are at our best, when we are at our most democratic, we are a great nation because we have the humility to listen.

And when we think of the leaders we love, when we ponder a Lincoln or a Washington, don’t we love them more for their humility than their army?

Standardized Testing in High Schools

by Publius

I’m having to give a standardized test over material none of us have covered.   The test is over the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and I’ve just covered Caesar Augustus.   What makes me sad — or one thing that makes me sad — is Miss Willis.

One kid says, “You hate this as much as we do.   So just give us the answers!”

To which Miss Willis says, “Don’t tell us.   Help us learn it.”   I just wanted to cry.   Really.

These kids want what any other kid wants, a decent education.   But, unlike some other kids, they know they’re getting cheated by, in this case, the state.

Wide and Deep

By Susan Kelly-DeWitt
One of the great things about being a blogger is that you can shine a little light on work you admire. Today I’m going to direct a fat beam on two very different poets, John Rybicki and Louie Skipper.

Rybicki’s poetry is new to me but I have followed Skipper’s work for a number of years. (We both had books in a series published by Sandra McPherson’s Swan Scythe Press.) Rybicki is Associate Professor and Writer-in-Residence at Alma College, teaches poetry writing to children through the “Wings of Hope” hospice program and lives in Denton, Michigan. Skipper is an Episcopal priest and college chaplain who lives in Montgomery, Alabama.

I heard about Rybicki’s work from a young poet-friend named Kate. Kate told me about his latest book We Bed Down Into Water (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2008). She was very enthusiastic about the poems, and so the next time we saw each other she brought the book along and left it on loan.

But let me start at the beginning with some history. Kate had a young friend who died very recently of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Rybicki’s book is about his wife’s sixteen-year battle with cancer, and so Kate had ordered a copy as a gift for her friend’s wife, hoping it would help. It did. (Rybicki’s book also helped Kate, whose husband spent ten months being tested for advanced metastatic melanoma before his doctors concluded the suspicious growths “probably” weren’t cancerous.)

Cancer seems to be all around us these days—our own, a spouse or partner’s, a relative’s or a friend’s. (Just this weekend we had a couple over for dinner. She spent the last eighteen months fighting breast cancer; during that period he was diagnosed with a resistant form of prostate cancer; they in turn told us about someone they had given a party for last summer—dying now from a brain tumor.)

We Bed Down into Water is about Rybicki’s marriage to the poet Julie Moulds Rybicki, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and their sixteen-year travels through the medical underworld of hospitalizations, chemotherapies and bone marrow transplants. But Rybicki’s book is not gloom-filled. It’s feisty, tough, and full of love. It is wildly passionate.

“Beauty is the beginning of terror,” Rilke said. The poems in Rybicki’s book live on the precipice between ecstatic love and mortal fear. They are lyrical, eccentric and so suffused with what Dylan Thomas called “the green fuse” that they rocket straight to our own hearts and shake us to the core.

Here is “Me and My Lass, We Are a Poem,” which is the third poem in the book. (Throughout the book Rybicki calls his wife by the exuberant pet names “Dame” and “Lass”; she calls him “Dude.”)

    Me and My Lass, We Are a Poem
    We tangle our hair in the moon,
    then she coughs and I have no net
    to catch the cough so I make her hot tea
    with honey. I call her my coughing alarm clock,
    but she’s warmer and smoother than our oven
    for waltzing with.
    When we travel in our covered wagon,
    she’s in the bathtub splashing her way

across the prairie, singing Bo Diddley songs.

    Any drop she spills
    the prairie dogs lick them up.
    That’s the kind of poem she is.
    When we lie down in the earth,
    we’ll need coffins with holes bored
    through their sides: we’ll each have
    ne arm hanging out
    so I can take hold of her
    hand, even while we’re in the dirt.
    Some nights our bed floats through
    the bedroom wall. We’re on our bellies
    laughing and rowing with one arm.
    When we get tired, the stars
    make nice pillow for our heads.
    The wind is what wakes me,
    blowing so hard I watch my love’s skin
    flake off: a whole storm of her
    flutters away from me until all that’s left
    inside her is a tired old woman

holding her spine like a candle.

[You can find Rybicki’s book on the Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press website: http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/Title/tabid/68/ISBN/0-8101-5186-3/Default.aspx You can also hear Rybiciki talking about and reading from We Bed Down into Water on the Library of Congress audio webcast at: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/poetpoem2.html ]

Louie Skipper also lost his wife to cancer several years ago. His Swan Scythe Press book The Fourth Watch of the Night, is about the long vigil that began when she found a lump in her breast. (“ …Stephanie places my fingertip/ against the world that appears/ firm and round under her left breast.”) Like Rybicki’s book, The Fourth Watch chronicles and confronts what follows.

But I want to focus here on Skipper’s more recent (fourth) book The Work Ethic of the Common Fly (Settlement House Press, 2007). Equal parts Donne and Neruda (many of the poems seem patterned after Neruda’s Book of Questions) they are, as Carolyn Kizer said of the earlier collection, the work of a “true metaphysical poet.”

I’ve read the poems in this collection several times now, and I find them, like Rybicki’s, exuberant, quirky, full of passion and also erudition. In the tradition of Donne, Herbert, Hopkins, they are a poet-man-of-the-cloth’s intense (and sometimes darkly funny) grappling. They remind me  a lot of Thomas Merton’s poems too (in fact, Skipper’s book got me thinking about Merton, so that will be the subject of my next blog entry.)

Here is the first (untitled) poem in the second section of The Wok Ethic of the Common Fly:

    In the lore of plagues
    Camus describes victims
    thrown into graveyards in anticipation of their deaths.
    They are remembered copulating.
    I understand the fear required
    to no longer think them living,
    as well as the hopelessness
    with which they turned to one another.
    At the end every sense is left alone to suffer.
    These words I write
    are the last testament of the child
    who still lives within me,
    the one who asks only
    that you remember him as he was,
    not as I am.
    We are all in this together,
    the way a woman weeping to herself
    pulls the rest of us in after her.

There’s an authentic taproot in the work of both these poets—each so different in style—that spreads wide and goes deep.

You can find Louie Skipper’s book and more about it on the Settlement House Press website: http://www.settlementhouse.us/books/common_fly/

He also has another brand new (2009) book there, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun. Check it out.

And if you’re interested in the work of Julie Moulds Rybicki, whose poems are very much alive on the page, you can read about her and find her book at New Issues Press: http://newissuespress.blogspot.com/2008/04/in-memory-julie-moulds-rybicki.html

The Kindercoffin

by Elizabeth Kirschner

The kindercoffin instead of kindergarten. The kindercoffin I lived in throughout my childhood. A white coffin like the walls if my bedroom. A place to hide in as hiding was the utmost necessary thing to do. I hid under the bed, in the closet and the crawlspace in the cellar where I read, by flashlight, every book I could get my hands on. Reading was transport, a critical way to get away from the horrific violence and violations I was subject to by those who authored my tale of travail—Mother, Father, Father, Mother.

Imagine Father punching me between my legs. Imagine Mother forcing me to eat my own vomit. Then imagine the kindercoffin as my one and only resting place where I longed to rest permanently. The kindercoffin as the incubator for the poet I would and have become.

If only someone had put a pen in my hand back then. Someone who would tritely say: write what you know about. A child author of what might have been tragic, Wagnerian poems. I who once put pens in the hands of many children, very many children. I who one said write and write they did. Real poems that really mattered. I have always believed in the deep-seated wisdom of children, how it gets obliterated by the culture as I was obliterated by Mother, Father.

I can say with some assurance that their tutelage in abuse schooled me as a writer. That kindercoffin truly was my poetic incubator. In my early years, I died psychically many times and almost physically many times as well. The deaths have lead to rebirths. Hence, the resurrection of the word as if it were God’s word which, of course, poetry is even at its most extreme godlessness.

Extremity. That’s how I live as a rugged survivor, moving at breakneck speed from extremity to extremity. Excessive joy, excessive pain. There’s no in between for me, few resting spots and out of that utter extremity comes my poetry. What’s great for poetry—the running up and down the scales of human and inhuman experience—is not necessarily good for a life. I am better at writing than I am at living which isn’t saying a hell of a lot.

The feeling, the all too real disturbing feeling of the kindercoffin, descended a few days ago while my psychologist was desperately trying to glue together a very unglued me. What has and does unglue me is my brutal and abusive divorce now reaching its slow, long overdue conclusions. My doctor said, “Imagine a protective shield around you,” and in I went into the kindercoffin. Not so good. Not what she, Susan, wanted. But kindercoffin was haven for me, horribly so, as it was for me as a child. I felt safe in my kindercofffin. Who can violate the dead? The necromancers can and my parents were definitely romantic necromancers.

I have been writing for thirty-five years but it feels as though I have been for all of my earth years. I who should have kept a baby journal, my little book of nightmare with and audience of one which would be God. Mother, Father were a triumph on the darkness and that very darkness has lit up my poetry. You are predatory over language, a friend wrote of a comment given to him which suits me perfectly. I who was prey, small prey indeed is now a predator of words, a glutton and whore for words, the more the better.

If I hadn’t lived in the kindercoffin, I would not have become a poet. My extreme experiences, extreme feelings zenith me into poems. The darkness then a power surge especially when memory erupts. Memory that has been in the lock-up as I have been in the lock-up, that holding tank of the damned.

Poetry locks-up language, freezes words to the page, yet the best words give off heat. Palpable heat. Heartwarming a reader might say, but mine sear the heart, burn the heart, turn it into coals, but even coals can glow in the dark. That’s all I want. To glow in the dark, give off a little heat. Now my beautiful iron bed serves as my kindercoffin and at this moment I’m dying to crawl into it to rest a minute, a year, a century. No death, no poetry, that phoenix, that fire bird hitting all the right notes and just, thank God, in the nick of time.