Something Like Heaven; The Difference Between Looking and Seeing; Maternity
By: R.C. Neighbors
Something Like Heaven
I get sad the schoolgirl says
as her eyes well
like a cartoon impossible
amounts of fluid
quivering on the precipice
when I think of him
that dog in the ground
a relatively young man
I have not known death
two school friends
various distant relations
lucky I guess
there was a grandmother
whose loss still stings
for weeks after she left
my aunt would feel her
climb into bed for warmth
the way the old gal did
while the chemo ransacked her body
years later she still visits
though my sedated mind remembers
even before I wake
before one grandfather passed
as the dementia clouded
his mind like a steamy shower door
he would weep for his parents
gone for decades as if
their graves were fresh
daddy I don't want to die
I've thought about doing it
would leave a note of course
love you all but
the world was too much
in this scenario
messy but quick
silver muzzle in mouth
to take out the automata
heartbeat and breath
who wants to be
comatose to linger
a worn book in her lap
the schoolgirl says
I want to learn everything
I can about people and places
a long time ago
she flips past
glossy pages of full-color
photos the Taj Mahal
Coliseum and Pyramids of Giza
daddy will I be in history she asks
the world is not enough
the more we write the less we die
wrote someone somewhere
as if words can hold a heartbeat
catch a breath and they can
linger ink on parchment
or black pixels a wafted whisper
to caress a cheek to express
I never did it
day after day
when the old gal passed
we gathered around her
bed in the fluorescent-filled hospital room
and my mother asked a question impossible
amounts of fluid
overflowing the precipice
is she in heaven son
it made sense to ask
she and the old gal never ones for church
even if they agreed with Jesus and all that
and I a former minister turned secret skeptic
of course I answered
we fat all creatures else to fat us
and we fat ourselves for maggots
wrote someone somewhere
the two of us this schoolgirl and I
we recline under a veil
of common cumulus as it shifts
in hue from bleached
bone to weeping flesh
to inner eyelid
the sky she tells me
the way the clouds hang there
it looks like heaven
The Difference Between Looking and Seeing
Today I found a photograph
we took I think near graduation,
inside that restaurant, you know,
that tosses rolls across the room
and bears a smorgasbord around
the drunken booths: so, there I pose,
bare arm behind your neck, my cap
turned backwards as I stare off-frame,
out toward tomorrow, so profound
or simply acting like a fool,
and on the other side you sit,
carefree, a twinkle for the flash,
but neither knows the future has
at most a few more years of you
before the lumps on tongue, pinpricks,
soft prayers, more medications—you:
a gaunt unmoving frame in bed;
a ribcage scrambling for its breath;
two eyelids flitting open; then
“I think this is the end.”
In high school, a friend flew
through the windshield of a pickup.
The front tire slid into the ditch
of a country road, and as it sprang back
onto the gravel, the entire truck vaulted
into the air like a gymnast.
In the immediate after,
fifteen-year-old me lay asleep
under cotton sheets covered
with pictures of baseballs and basemen.
My mother walked in—
provider of the exasperated sigh,
the harsh word, the barked command
and enjoyer of the one-too-many.
“There’s been an accident,” she whispered
and curled herself against me.
Then she wept
over my shocked silence,
her arm cradling my chest,
the squeeze so tight
I could scarcely breathe.
R.C. Neighbors is an Oklahoma expatriate who received a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Texas A&M University and an M.F.A from Hollins University. He currently serves as a Lecturer at the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen, TX. He lives with his wife, four kids, two dogs, and a photo of himself with the head of hair and motorcycle he used to have. When possible, he enjoys sitting alone, doing nothing and not being bothered. His work has appeared in Tampa Review, Barely South Review, Found Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Anthology: Texas, and elsewhere.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I went through a poetry phase as a teenager—mostly poems about unrequited love—because I needed an outlet for teen angst. I had no idea what I was doing, though, and I’m embarrassed to even think about them now. Thankfully, those poems all ended up in a trash bin at some point.
I didn’t seriously start writing poetry until graduate school about nine years ago, when forced to write poems in some of my courses. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, though most of the poems were still terrible. As I’ve continued to write fiction over the years, I found myself having ideas that didn’t quite fit for a story, so I returned more and more to poetry as an outlet for my writing.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
A poem I return to again and again, one that grabbed me and helped me understand my own human struggle, over depression, meaning, and wonder, is “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” by Sylvia Plath. I really feel it, every time I read it, that search for beauty, even the miraculous, in the mundane.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
There are too many poets to name, but here are a few: Mark Doty, Lucia Perillo, Qwo-Li Driskill, Cherríe Moraga, Denise Duhamel, Bruce Bond, and Natasha Trethewey.
Over the last few years—given my growing family and declining country—I’ve really appreciated the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
I’ve found the times I’ve had the most success with writing is when I can get into a routine and stick with it. Finding any time at all, though, has been doubly hard now that we are in a global pandemic, with all of my kids stuck at home while I have to teach full time, play part-time elementary school teacher, and try to write. Still, I can manage to eke out some time in the late evening.
I find inspiration while reading other author’s poetry, so I’ll often read before I write. The inspiration can be a topic or a form or even simply a line that spurs a memory, but it’s hard for me to read for very long before I want to pick up the pen or keyboard.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
Typically, when I have an idea for a poem, I simply start writing. Sometimes it starts as a mere block of text, but usually I’ll intuit line breaks. The form typically presents itself during the editing process.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
The most important advice I can give is to read. Read emerging poets, famous poets, dead poets. Read people with similar lives to yours and so many poets with a vast array of differences. Read fiction and nonfiction and screenplays and user’s manuals and cereal boxes. Knowing what is out there is a good way to know what you—with your words and thoughts and experiences—have to offer the world.
What is your editing process like?
The editing process is the grunt work of writing. After I have a draft, I’ll take a step back and see where the poem seems to be heading. I’ll change line breaks. Add and subtracts words, lines. If several lines suggest a uniform meter, I’ll likely try the poem in meter. Then, probably switch it back. Then, back once more.
It’s about playing with language, seeing what effects and insights can be created. After the poem has become somewhat presentable, I sometimes let a person I trust read it, in order to get a second pair of eyes on it. However, even with readers I trust, I take their feedback with a grain of salt. I’ve gotten some terrible advice over the years. I’ve learned to trust my instincts. If it feels like something may be off about a word or line or poem, it probably is. More times than not, though, the readers’ comments jive with my own feelings.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
There’s a quote attributed to a few different people that “art is never finished; it is merely abandoned,” which I mostly agree with. I tell my own students that a piece of writing can almost always be improved.
That said, I’m usually finished with a poem when I can no longer think of how to improve it, when I’ve fiddled with it and fiddled with it until I don’t have the physical or emotional energy to continue and need to send it into the world.