In Part 1 of Into My Own (https://fullbeardlit.org/2019/11/18/67/), I told the story of how I began writing; specifically how intoxicating those early days felt to me after finding this vehicle for getting things out of my head and into the world. I had no idea what that world was all about or even how to communicate with it. I had merely discovered a tool to communicate with myself. So, why did I write? This communication proved more valuable to me than to anyone else at first. I needed to understand who I was. It was another half dozen years before I learned the word ‘introvert’ and what it meant, probably another dozen or more for me to really internalize that meaning. I did know that my head got stuck on things that other people didn’t seem to and I was quickly labeled as Serious.
Like any teenage boy, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and needed to figure out how to change this. Funny that none of my poetry about teenage emotional angst survived that fateful move that lost my enumerated, sacred early works. While this may have its merits in quality control, its offerings to help me understand what things plagued me are now distinctly absent. A few remaining poems that I had transcribed into the computer when I got to college must have mattered more than the others, either because I thought they were of better quality or they meant something significant. They each offer different clues to answer the riddle of why I wrote.
The Dreams of Coronus
May 25, 1986
Looking up from below
He stands high above me
I search in the heavens
As the world will see
Wherever I search,
He stands beside me
His hands support my soul
The dreams of Coronus
The dream of Peace
I feel the presence of Heaven
Aside from revealing my poor conjugating ability, this reveals a significant clue. First, for clarity, Coronus is me; my name being Stephen, Stephen meaning crown in the original Greek, and Corona being the word for crown in Latin, the language I took in high school. I will let the pretentiousness speak for itself, but at the very least this serves as an early indication of being unable to reconcile this inner being who wrote with the outer being everyone knew as Steve. Not yet 16, this boy was writing about God, grappling with faith but confident in his beliefs. This didn’t feel ‘normal’ to me back then. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.
I do know the confidence reflected in “Dreams of Coronus,” was reflected in an ability to reject many things other kids were exploring at that age, like drugs and alcohol. The neighborhood I grew up in was more remote and off a too-busy and unsafe highway; so a walk into town to hang out with the bulk of the kids was always out of the question. As a result, I grew up a more isolated; not alone, by any stretch, it was still a neighborhood with kids and regular activities like sledding and capture the flag and football, but it was far removed from the party culture that grew up elsewhere. In the end, this never bothered me, and the distance proved crucial in my development as a writer as well as a young adult. Plus, I became interested in Serious things, like God and peace.
June 19, 1986
Bullets pierce and echo the air
Villagers abandon their flaming homes
The king cannot see, only the Lord sees
Reasons do not matter as bloodshed begins
On a hilltop the one flag quivers in the wind
Tears pour into the Child’s innocent eyes
His brother has died in the flames of war-
Horror from what was once so grand
Unnoticed, underfoot our freedom drifts
We, sightless, block our ears from the Child’s wail
His father has died in the ocean of war
Only to be as us- free
The fire rages across the countryside
The Child is shot in his tears
The memory of his brother burns
The memory of his father drowns
One man fills his jars with tears
His son fills dreams with fears
Both are dead, burned by lead
Nothing left, there is no son
Nothing left, there is no village
At dawn the flames consumed the last morsel
On a hillside the one flag quivers
The stars shine, the bullets pierce the air
We bury the Child under the flag
His father would have won the flag
They bled too long for
A reason too wrong
Bullets pierce and echo the air
The village burnt to the ground
Does any flesh mourn the Child?
Reasons do not matter when innocence sheds blood.
These poems tell what this late-15 year old boy was concerned about and goes a long way to confirming how serious I actually was. My mother labelled me too serious, a comment that felt more disparaging than she meant it as she just longed for me to be healthy and happy. However, she was right. I was too serious to fit in with my peers and struggled with feeling out of place in my own skin. “The Child” reflects a compassion that I felt as an essential element of my faith, and still do.
When I re-read these words today, I hear the voice of a young man compelled to write as a vehicle to express things he couldn’t talk about in casual conversation. After all, who really wants to talk about war and God in between sets at swim practice or while trading baseball cards or while sneaking looks at the latest Swimsuit edition? Thus writing became an essential vehicle to figure out how my beliefs defined my reactions to a growing awareness of the world and its great tragedies, in this poem, the death of children in war.
Vision of Tomorrow
July 31, 1986
The world is restless under my feet
I haven’t seen the sun in days
Black clouds hover the ground I walk
Yet there is no one to see what I see
The world rots in universal entropy
No light finds the grass I walk
Heaven’s tears flood the pours of my dry skin
Heaven’s roars frighten the tiny children
Here in this isolated town sleeps a naive soul
Blind by youth to the world in his eyes
He knows none see his visions
He knows he speaks false words
Here in this isolated town I sleep
Blind by youth to the mad world in my eyes
I worry of love and other bittersweet passions
I will rise above to see the world
Over the Appalachians and through the pines
I long to have the vision of years
Yet only through time will God grant my wish
I will still dream of mares in the night, and white stallions.
Lightning flashes in my eyes
The princes and slaves, two-faced societies
The land ahead is covered by clouds
I run onward in spite of my blindness
Does she on the blue-green hilltop have sight
Are the stars above hers to gaze in a dreamy awe
Does she lie blind like the naive soul I am
She is one of the merry youth
A naive child searching through the attic
I look for the key to open my sight
Soon I will find it and unlock the door
Open my eyes to the winds eluding me
The key has been stolen
The door opens before my naive eyes
The wind’s howl threatens the lies in my life
Of sweet music and star filled skies
Shut the door- my eyes burn
My ears long for the sweet music
Reality is upon the blue-green hilltop
The stars are ours in a dreamy awe
Is this my sight?
Are these mountains only my visions?
Will you look with me or sit alone?
I, naive child dare to be an adult
There she rests alone on the blue-green hilltop
She has the stars in her gaze of dreamy awe
If only the stars were not behind the clouds
I would trap the stars in her gaze
The world rushes behind the drag of my feet
The light of the sky is hidden for me to find
I write these words never to be understood
Like the scream of a child in a moonless night
Please let me gaze at a starlit sky
One last chance to wish upon my naive falling star
Soon the truth will burn this naiveté
My child will crumble in the heap of an adult
She sits with me on the blue-green hilltop
The stars are ours to gaze in a dreamy awe
The sun will shine upon our new days
The blackness of night will pass
Will the world wait for me?
I gaze my dreamy awe one last time
Run from the hilltop with me, dream and weep
Soon the world will turn in the palm of your warm hand.
The final poem rescued from those floppy discs perhaps tells the most about who this 15-year-old boy was – and clearly, there is a lot of confusion in this mess of a poem. The loneliness of being Serious screams out as well as the isolation and the longing to understand why I felt lonely and isolated. There is arrogance directed at my peers and frustration about being young and naïve. There is longing for adventure and there is romance and longing for a mysterious “she” on a hill that will understand him and gaze up at the same stars he sees, or maybe this “she” is poetry or The Muse.
In these words, I find this boy who wanted almost to be an adult without any real understanding of what that meant, but was fairly prescient: “My child will crumple in the heap of an adult.” Clearly, not being Serious wasn’t a real option to this boy, and he was bound and determined to figure out why.
And so I wrote.