"The man survived because, after a while, / He shut up about it."
- Larry Levis
Steve Henn teaches high school English in northern Indiana. He’s the author of several books including Guilty Prayer, Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year, and his most recent chapbook, American Male, published by Main Street Rag in February 2022. Steve's the proud father of his children with the late American artist Lydia Henn. He loves crab cakes, playing records, and he gives poetry readings in all kinds of places.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Steve joins us long distance from his classroom. Welcome, Steve. What have you brought for us today?
Here a few poems from Guilty Prayer...
What is it the addicted are really addicted to?
Feeling better? If I felt okay continuously
I wouldn’t know how to take it. After my wife’s 2nd tour
of inpatient behavioral, before we divorced,
the doc put her on Lithium. Stable as God’s Table
on a flat, flat Earth. Then she quit taking it.
Said she didn’t feel like herself any more.
Who is it we’re really married to when we drop
successful medical treatment for alcohol
or pot, illicitly acquired Xanax or Oxy?
Our own Misery? I lived there when young
and stupid. Late in the semester my girlfriend
split with me because the only thing she liked about us
was the almost-sex we had so much. I got high
and cried for three weeks nonstop, all the way
back to Indiana. My brother brought me back on
a 3 – 7 a.m. run to clean out my dorm room,
looking the other way when I swept the stems
and seeds from a desk drawer into the trash.
It took 22 years of bad memories to bring me
flush up to sobriety. We say we want deep love,
don’t we? Attitude or platitude? I’ve abandoned
more lovers than I’ve loved. We can be
so very close to climax when I bang shut
the awful deadly chambers of my heart.
Poem for the Mother of my Children
I wonder if it was an inability
to cope with 1000 minor disappointments
that drove you to put the belt
around your neck. I am with you
in that sense. Losing battle after battle.
hoping and dashing hopes, killing my will
on half chances and failed attempts
but I am nowhere near suicide.
Still I think now I understand
You felt you really had no one.
Not me any longer, certainly.
Not your dubious boyfriend.
The afternoon before you killed yourself
you hugged each of our children inside
my minivan and told them you loved them.
Hindsight worried us that night. I’m sure
you felt a lightness, a peace.
Because our oldest daughter and I
shared an apple account then
I know she sent you message
after message, begging for response,
after you were already gone.
Some things cannot be talked about.
The last time I saw my father
lying on the living room floor.
How I sat at my bedroom desk
unable to concentrate on Driver’s Ed
homework repeating in my head
I didn’t need to run through the woods
to the hospital on the other side
of the neighborhood. Mom said
this was nothing so it would be nothing.
Any moment now, back to our regularly
scheduled life. Any minute now, back
to our regularly scheduled program.
Some moments I live again.
So many moments when nothing happened.
Confined in Bloomington I was sure
I would be beaten. I waited for it. I didn’t
do anything. It was like they expected me
to acquiesce. We want to punish you
and we want you to want your punishment.
Crave it. Lick it up like spilt whiskey
on the hardwood floor. Nothing happened.
Nothing ever happens again and again.
When he died it was nothing. And she,
she was nothing. Another trick, another actor
playing a role to provoke a response.
Another cipher in this matrix of sorcery,
this joke of a life the gods gave me.
But I do love the children she gave me.
Spare them. Spare them, oh God,
If it is true that You are Good, because
I want to believe it, to believe
in You. Spare my children. I do love them so.
You’ve been listening to the poetry of Steve Hann on the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.