When I moved in with my aunt
I didn’t leave my demons at the doorstep.
I was a balled-up boy, a brick in my confidence,
a hazard—so Mama said, a boy stripped down
to nothing but a silent blues.
Sitting in my cousin’s room with a sheet
tied up around all my belongings,
I pulled out dark pieces of myself,
placed them around the room near his
Dr. Seuss books and Disney movies—
the carousel life he lives, the cyclone life I come from.
My sad aroma overflowed the room when all
I wanted was to leave faith in those spaces.
Mothers should never butcher their boys below the knees
because they’ll always have trouble walking into the light.
My aunt left the light in my face
but didn’t hold my hand,
watched to see whether I was
going to become the funk,
the harmony from under the tragedy,
or continue to be this acid jazz.
I leaned into her love,
I leaned into what she loved
she let lyrics live on her tongue long after the song was over,
lyrics that put pain to sleep.
I wanted to be every sound and note that pleased my auntie;
eventually, music became my middle name.
In holier spirits, I was still haunted by a mother
who left me with only hand-me-downs from hell,
trauma too big for a child to stitch up, a parent’s accidental curse.
But my aunt pushed me beyond treble,
so I pushed and pushed and pushed
until I fell onto the page, writing away my weariness,
leading myself into the light of my own juke joint,
inviting all my demons to dance, laying them down
on a soft bed and digging into them until I found gold
until it sounded like the soulfulness of a trombone.
At the water park with a woman I need to impress
My ego begins to swell to the size of a submarine
She does not know she is a string coiled on my finger
At the start of the ride, I climb into a narrow, misty abyss,
let go and sink into the truth. Frantic like a caught fish
my ego bangs the walls of the giant pipe
Then like a great waterfall, I plunge into a tank of water
I go under, the way I was stringing this woman along
I go under, the way I was ready to take her to the deep end
And under, the way I was going to anchor her to the
ocean floor so she wouldn’t come up long after I left
I sink into my death and sink, and I don’t see heaven
I see a scalding hot tub in hell with my name on it
Whistles and yells siren me from afar, I am breath
My ego emerges but is shipwrecked
I remember I have a woman to impress
A woman to water down with fallacies
But when the lifeguard opens my eyes
My soul comes out coughing and pleading
And that day, through hell and high water,
I learned where swimming in lies could lead me.
Poet and theater instructor Oak Morse was born and raised in Georgia. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature as well as a Semi-Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Awarded the 2017 Hambidge Residency, Oak’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Indianapolis Review, Star 82 Review, Menacing Hedge, Nonconformist Mag, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. Oak has a B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University and he currently lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches creative writing and performance and leads a youth poetry troop, The Phoenix Fire-Spitters. (@oak.morse)