Oklahoma, you are so generous to let me wear your skin.
You cling to my face in breeze or gust so I don't forget
your windwords in their absence.
You wear crimson and clover as work-worn wranglers by day
and nothing but the classiest of little black dresses by night;
you grow exponentially irresistible.
You paint boots copper sunset on towering plateaus.
Your red dirt is armor unmatched; your people etch you
into their skin with sunbeam-smile pride.
I hold you chained to me like a pocket watch;
even when you slip from my hands, you only fall so far.
Every reunion will be Ferris wheel belly drops and rodeo heartbeats.
I ache something fierce for you already.
I'm glad that through even the strongest of storms,
you never really wash away.
There are few things in life more soothing, more comforting, than a hug from a loved one. For some, they’re even medicinal in a way. Research has shown that 8-10 meaningful touches are needed per day to maintain happiness and wholeness in spirit. For a brief moment, all worry and care and pain and suffering can be drowned out by the sound, the feeling, of another’s heartbeat against your own. What if this were the only effective medicine you had? And what if fear and ignorance denied you of it?
Lawrence Walton Young was born on July 1st, 1952 into a troubled home. He was the sixth of eight children. This man was my uncle. He was thrust into a life far less satisfying than he deserved. From youth, he was denied the love he needed by an abusive-turned-absent father. In 1959, when my Uncle Larry was seven years old, his parents separated for four years. From the ages of 7-11…very formative years for a young boy…Uncle Larry learned what it meant to experience a lack of love, and for the rest of his life would be driven to seek this love an acceptance from other sources. My father, Uncle Larry’s younger brother, told me that Larry was, “…smarter than all of us.” But even still, without guidance and nurturing, all Larry could think to do was to run in search of the love and acceptance he so desperately needed.
In 1970, at the age of 18, Uncle Larry joined the US Army. As a member of the infantry, he proved to be an excellent soldier. He was awarded a variety of recognitions, including being a sharpshooter. In January 1971, he was sent to
April, he was at Walter Reed Army Hospital in . He had earned two purple
hearts during his four months in country, the second one because of mortar fire
that tore through his left leg, damaging it so badly that he should have lost
it. But he didn’t…he healed. And though he was told he shouldn’t ever walk
right again, he did that too. Uncle Larry was a fighter. He received a medical
discharge and at 19 years old he was back to where he had been before, no longer
a part of the place where he had found some semblance of the acceptance that he
Having already experimented with drugs and alcohol prior to his joining the Army, Uncle Larry returned to these things with a newfound fervency. The horrors that his 18-year-old eyes had witnessed in
Vietnam only served to fuel his
desires for numbed emotions. Through his experimentation, he came across a drug
known as BAM. Popularized in the early 70s, this form of methamphetamine was
taken intravenously. Though Uncle Larry’s drug and alcohol use, and again, a
deep-seeded need for affection, inevitably led to promiscuity, it was
eventually determined by my uncle that the sharing of needles was what led to
his contraction of HIV in 1989. He was 36 years old. My father and my pastor
were in the room with him when he got the news. He was devastated. And through
all of his trials and struggles and addictions, my Uncle Larry was still a man.
I want you to know this: Habits do not always have to shape the individual. My
Uncle Larry went through the hard and terribly awkward task of calling and
informing all the women he had come in contact with of his unfortunate
diagnosis. I can only imagine that this was one of the most difficult things he
had to accomplish in his life, but nevertheless he did it.
Uncle Larry was diagnosed at a time when AIDS was emerging rapidly and little was known about how it worked or how to fight it. Paying for everything himself, my uncle tried expensive herbal teas, dietary changes, exercise, and of course AZT. However, his lack of knowledge about the ease of transmission and how badly it decimates the immune system ultimately allowed for Uncle Larry’s life choices post-diagnosis to counteract his attempts at fighting the disease. He continued in his alcohol and drug use, as well as his promiscuity, though he was far more careful in methods of prevention of the spread of the disease. I say this not to judge or condemn my uncle in any way, or to present him in a negative light, but rather to illustrate the power of addiction and the extreme loneliness and self-destruction that his situation led him into. Unless you have been diagnosed with this disease, one can only imagine that this man, whose actions sought only to bring him some sort of approval by someone, somewhere, these actions, this quest for belonging and emotional reprieve now condemned him to death.
Uncle Larry drank himself to a stroke in 1993, and he spent the majority of the remainder of his battle with AIDS in the VA Hospital in
During this time, a second stroke ravaged his body, further depleting his
immune system and driving him closer to his death. Far more devastating than
this, though, was the most times, though not always only, perceived rejection
he continued to feel from his family. People continued to be frightened of this
seemingly unstoppable virus, and even love for a brother could not overcome
this fear. My uncle’s siblings did not visit him nearly as often as they should
have, certainly not as often as he needed them to. And this continued absence
in his time of need is what, I feel, eventually led to his inability to fight
any longer. Beckley, West Virginia
My Uncle Larry passed on March 22nd, 1995. He was 42 years old. I was nine and had seen him only a handful of rememberable times, most in the hospital. His six year battle with AIDS ended with a military funeral. My father has one of his purple hearts and the flag from the ceremony. My Uncle Jerry has the other Purple Heart and the rest of Uncle Larry’s medals. And now, 22 years after my uncle’s diagnosis, we still have no publicly known cure for AIDS. But something that is known, has always been known, is that there is little that can destroy the bonds of love and family, and the human spirit. I exhort all who can hear me right now to remember that no matter what, love. Without boundaries, love. Without limitation, love. Without ceasing, without condition, without hesitation, love. And hug those you love as often as you can. Though your loved one may pass with a broken body, let them go with a whole and overflowing heart.
Let’s get married,
Impossible, I say.
Time is fictional.
It was made for trains.
I wrote the railway a letter.
I told them that they didn’t need to stop
Our wedding day will always be yesterday.
Our anniversary will be tomorrow.
We will never celebrate it.
Anniversaries disrupt continuity.
We will not be hash marks on a doorframe.
We will be marked by the growth of mountains
and the erosion of stone
This heart beat is a stutter-step
Keep this dime-store orchestra body
in unison with your lilting hands.
She packs her batons
in her grandmother’s suitcase.
She is ready for this journey.
I will follow.
1) You are a regatta in a rainstorm.
All thunderbolts and lifejackets,
you are hell-bent on capsize.
Hulls scream splinters in retort;
Poseidon nods his approval,
you strike worthy in his sight.
But no one cries out to him for aid.
Sometimes waves crest higher than your faith.
2) My palms are rope-shredded and baby pink.
My fingertips are teeth-tattered, but can still
elicit tones beautiful from string.
Let me sing you complacent.
Calm your ragged breath,
hold your inhale a bit longer.
Fill your lungs to aching with this respite.
3) An albatross glazes itself like fine pottery across the sky
leaving thirteen years of continuous flight
in his wing-beat-less wake.
He has seen storms like you before
but he long ago molted away his fear of you.
He knows to go over you now.
He knows that flying through you is a death sentence.
4) The thing about the eye of the storm
is that it’s temporary. And you know
that when this harpy of a hurricane returns
it will be far more destructive than
it will be far more destructive than
prior winds could have prepared you for.
If the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and
expecting a different result, then why do I still expect answers
to prayers continually offered in various languages
when my sanity is all I have left.
Yet I continue with my mallet, repairing the gaps
in my storm-stretched framework as though it will make a difference.
5) Blustering back as though you own
every ocean-bound vessel, your return
is an uneven firefight.
Your winds turn over graves still left
half-buried from your last trip through,
showing no mercy in your swath
of destruction. You target the weak seams first.
Lowering my sails serves to reduce the size of my bulls-eye hide
but your aim is pinpoint. Here’s to hoping
I still know how to shake a bogie.
6) My father has been teaching me how to sail
since I can remember. We had lessons every Sunday.
His father never taught him much of anything,
so maybe that’s why it’s so hard to let go.
I need to see him happy before myself.
7) My shipwreck heart sinks like a sieve
every time I travel through your tempestuous weather.
Your winds blow fiercer than my boats can handle.
But there is enough wood at the bottom of my chest
to construct an armada and I’m still not afraid of your
bluster. You will not beat me. I will sail again.
Standing here among these hearts
and minds, intertwined and tangled
like lovers’ limbs,
we are reminded
of what we are
and what we are not.
uniform pieces litter
floor and bodies but we
do not focus on the negligible.
The important things…
they are found in air around us,
bouncing off each other like atoms,
truth and fellowship.
we are giants.
Far larger than the fates
that conspire against us,
we tower over them
like terrible lizards.
They don’t frighten us in here.
Our teeth are larger than theirs.
We have survived asteroids.
This is more than mortar and
stone. This place is sanctuary.
We remember who we are
We are flesh and sinew.
We are mind, will, and emotions.
We are temples unto ourselves.
Wash yourself holy in our smoke.
we present to each other
offerings of concrete
for faulty foundations.
we are equals.
Wearied souls who find rest in the
rejuvenation of each other.
we are quenched.
We are self-governing.
we are righteous.