I wish I could say
that my actions are more than
those of a man drowning,
wild-armed, begging forgiveness
of the current —
of the tide, apologizing
between bob and breech, asking the waves
why she seems never to love me
‘til I’m tightroping
a razor line between sea and sky
trying not to call myself capsized;
I wish I could tell you
my lungs aren’t taking on water, and
that my stomach
is not filled more with
ocean than last meal, or
that I cannot feel all of my organs
descending into panic, you
once asked me if I could swim, I
looked at you and told the
lie that lovers tell, trusting that the
prayers floating inside of our
chests, like clusters of young fireflies
still unsure of their own
light, will come to love
and save us from our
dark corners like glowing stars
on childhood ceilings.
I said “for you, I can learn.”
I meant “if I drown, it will have been a choice to chase your reflection.
and then one day you wake up
and realize that
you’ve spent more of your
light dragging your
sorrows into sunshine —
bought more stock in your
pains, and angers, and
darkness, the relics that you keep
with you each morning, than you’ve invested
into your smile —
one day, you will reach down
to grab your bags before walking
through another threshold, toward another
same-old-new-thing, your hands
will start shaking,
will look up at you,
will grow mouths,
will grow teeth,
will snarl “no,”
how you could be so stupid; how
you could believe
that the pieces of past you wear
like dog tags
dangled lazily across your breast plate
have ever actually spared or saved you; have ever not
just been your own blood painted like a bullseye around
your soft tissues and fears —
your hands will look
up at you and ask whether you
are better off, or whether you
just acclimated to
breathing angry and pushed-to-fringe as if
it were an altitude shift, and just
learned to find comfort in the places
that light doesn’t go willingly —
when your hands
look up to you, lifelines crying, asking why
you have forsaken them, I’m just begging
that you listen.
Not nearly enough, but I certainly learned what poetry was (certainly continue to learn what poetry is) through my reading of other people’s interpretations of it.
Do you have anyone specific in mind, because I love reading poems. email them to email@example.com — and tell me why they matter to you if you’re not the poet, or why this poem mattered to you if you are.
“please forgive my quiet.
I’ve been listening to God,
and men, and
trying to live down
each of my
days, my dreams
haven’t come ‘round
as often as nightmares have; it’s scary
when you can’t let go, and you
have more reasons to wake
up tomorrow than to
sleep tonight.”—Niles Heron,
she was like walking
up to the edge of a cliff
and letting your toes dangle
taste freedom; giving them
a chance to plume, or learn
they were always every-only human, she
was a dream on a picket fence
straddling, struggling to name
itself as either flying or
the other thing.
Do not be alarmed, Jim,
I know how you feel
about silence, but it’s not
what you think, we have simply
chosen to begin
counting our dead in the words
they lived, and in our own
built with more light
more love, more
than the ones you gave us.
We are tired of watching
pieces of ourselves ascend
to Heaven, only to have their
dispatch demand that we pay for
the opportunity to stand
closer to God.
A Beautiful Night Sky,
With More Stars
Than You Have Bullets.
When a black boy falls
onto a black gun’s bullet, fired into
a heart we forgot to hear on an
unlit inner city street corner,
does he even make a sound
as his hands claw at concrete
gasping after his last breaths?
Will we raise our hands
for him, too?
Does his life not
carry the same
Niles Heron, 8.15.14
There are levels to this war.
The value of black life is not as black-and-white as we want, sometimes.
What if we marched for all of the black boys dying?
I’ve had a number of discussions (pre-and-post-Ferguson) about the opportunity to interact with Police, specifically as a Black Male, with contempt or combativeness BUT within the law. We are so often taught-and-reminded to prostrate ourselves before the badge in fear of the consequences that a failure to do that will produce – not that compliance with this philosophy will unilaterally produce positive outcomes (see: a list of Black men seemingly shot while laying on the ground on their stomachs).
It’s my feeling that there is a real impact that the threat of being the next Mike Brown/Rodney King/ (or the litany of lesser harassment and violations). The probability that it will happen to us as opposed to them that is an active dissuasive presence in our minds when we deal with the cops. We are never unaware of where any even routine interaction with the law can escalate.
Lots of us don’t know the law (I accept that, and more probably don’t than do for a range of reasons), but in this video — a man carrying a gun in public… If he were black, would he have been approached and spoken to calmly? Or would he have been treated as a threat, and would the interaction have been escalated as that.
Comparing anecdotes… Here we have a video of a (we presume) white man brandishing a firearm, who has been reported by the public as being a safety concern. He speaks aggressively to the Police, and is clearly combative – It’s important to note that this is after they have already seemingly peaceably disarmed him of his actual-real-life-shoot-and-kill-people weapon (the video starts after they take his pistol). He is given the opportunity to not be a threat to the police, and to argue his case on the basis of legal right/wrong. He is afforded this opportunity (I’d argue) because he is not perceived as an imminent threat (or however you’d like to describe the way “we” are so often projected/perceived).
Meanwhile, outside of Dayton, Ohio, a young man is walking around Walmart with a not real, not shoot and kill people TOY gun. He is reported as being a threat, and police arrive (to a call I’m going to assume was not a passive, oh by-the-way call, but I recognize this is an assumption influenced by my bias). He is then shot dead while trying to explain to the officers that his gun is not real, and that he is not a threat. He is not given an opportunity to say: “Officer, why is it illegal for me to hold a toy? Why are you harassing me in the country that I live in, where I have the right to proceed about my private business unmolested – I am not a disturbance, please leave me alone.” We don’t/won’t know what he might have said if discussion was an option, and are-too-often-denied-the-opportunity-to defend ourselves with rhetoric.
It is not my argument that these are comparatively the same circumstance (could be tangerines vs. oranges; I would argue the video is probably much more “dangerous” than the Walmart incident), but I think it highlights a probability and perception that influences our (peoples of color, specifically Black Americans) ability to feel as though we are allowed to interact with law enforcement with anything but the fear that anything we do will be perceived as rage and impending assault-to-be-met-with-force.
All of this begs the question. As a Black Man what am I supposed to say to the cops when they catch me with a toy gun in my hand? As a Black Man interested in having sons who will be black-and-not-by-their-choice, what do I tell them to do?
For a long time I didn’t think that I had multiple personalities or whatever, and I still don’t. What I think is we each have a personality spectrum, across which vacillate over minutes, days, months, years – we are not paintings, we are live painting sessions. We are rivers, or we are standing on the banks of therivers, and either way the same place is never quite the same place as it was the last time we stood her looking at someone, or they dipped their feet at our banks (or did their laundry, or whatever… blah… metaphors).
The point is that recently I’ve realized that being a Gemini, for me, is that my personality spectrum is shaped like a horseshoe, and it’s easier for me to get from one end of the spectrum to the other than it is for some people (because I can just jump the gap between the ends of the horseshoe, as opposed to travelling the full range). Think about it like the mouth of a lake. Some people have to circle the lake to get to the other side. I was given a bridge. Which means it can seem like I have two personalities, but really I can just actually write a love poem, and then actually be furious because my love poems never seem to save Mike Brown, every time he dies.
That was dark, maybe, given your question… Sorry, not sorry.
In the end if I remember anything, let
it be everything, but if my memory
of my human life is going to stay here
in my body after I leave it behind,
please help me ease into the when in which I will
I pray, I ask
let me spend my last moments
not fighting, unless it is for you,
not fighting, unless it’s with you,
not fighting, unless it’s to get to her to kiss her goodnight,
I’m so tired of fighting, Father. I don’t
want to do it anymore
but I will do it forever until I know my sons
and daughters won’t have to
but whenever I lose this here
I don’t want to feel it slipping through my fingers
I don’t want to be scared anymore
I don’t want to leave my last movements as
empty grasps at the memories of their valuation,
swatting at the cold hands gripping the back of my neck,
or resisting wherever they’re trying to guide me
I don’t want to feel empty without my anger at
the silence of my friends who stood
quiet as we bled out in the streets
of the country they. call. home. too.
as they walked by and looked at us turning a color
we should not be able to turn,
and cocked their heads slightly
and said “howdy neighbor” before returning to their
and as we hung like tire swings with natural hair from the trees
they let their kids climb like they were their own, and
said: “it’s just a tree,
you didn’t invent it.
nature is for everyone.”
I wonder if they pray like this.
the last thing I see might be of you,
or of her,
of someone who’s love has not given me pause
of someone who has already given their life to the kind
of love worth dying for.
Do you think soul mates exist? How do you know that person is "The One"?
I think that to try to even have this talk we have to draw some lines in the sand (read: if we don’t define what we think a soul mate is, there’s no way to answer this question / also read: this answer will not survive high-tide).
I think that if there is a ‘standard’ definition for “soul mate” it would probably be the idea that each person has “a perfect match — the yin to yang, part two of a two-part puzzle; a companion who, should we not find, and (re)unite with, neither piece/person can be complete — a unliaterally reciprocal compliment.”
Seriously think about the implications of that for a moment… For me, if we accept that to be a working “soul mate” defintion, then we also have to accept one of two ideas:
1) Our lives are not an accident. We are here because we’re supposed to be (more on this in a bit), or…
2) Our lives are random exercises in combinatory genetics and circumstantial probability. For ‘soul mates’ to exist in this scenario, I imagine the idea would be that we all start off as a part of a pair before being separated at-or-before birth. (It’s a reach to think we have souls if we are random happenings, but) We will be born and live our lives without a name for the yearning and incompleteness our souls carry for decades during which we will be too consumed by our childhood, adolescence, and the post-adolescent cocaine-and-other-drug-or-drink-or-whatever-you-do-it’s-cool-no-judgement-I-just-wanted-to-have-fun-too-but-be-safe-because-ODing-is-a-serious-problem phase of our lives called our twenties. There will be a lottery-odds-at-best few who will have their high-school sweethearts turn out to be the love-of-their-lives, and everyone will hate them for making it all look so damn easy — and they’ll probably (statistically) still break up at 35 when hubby comes home early after cancelling his afternoon affair for the day to find his wife taking a long lunch break on the kitchen counter with her work-husband (we know about him, ladies — we’re not amused)… Sorry. I digress. Where was I… Oh. Okay… Blah blah blah blah pair, separated at birth, blah blah blah, we turn 27 and realize that we need some help solving this emptiness, and our souls have grown into this super weird shape with all kinds of caverns and a weird erosion pattern that gives us edges that are round and sharp at the same time, and soft and rough at the same time, and pretty and ugly-as-hell at the same time; we keep crashing into other people and cutting ourselves further, and breaking off pieces of ourselves further, and we sit there and look at the stitch marks and the chipped edges and wonder what of this was “supposed to happen,” and what has just been “what has happened in a world where everyone, regardless of any God’s plans, has personal dominion enough to just make a sharp left turn in the middle of a block into oncoming traffic if they feel inclined to do so…” We’re 27 and now we want to not be alone. We’re 27 and we want not to be alone, and we want to find cures to not-alone-ness via the one person built to solve that exact dilemma. The one random soul who can mate with our incongruencies to make us into something symmetrical.
Problem: She lives in India, I live in Detroit, and we’ll never meet or speak the same language. We are each doomed to walk the earth lonely.
Problem: He died in a car accident at 16 when he wouldn’t tell his buddies not to drive drunk, and got in the car, and they couldn’t swerve fast enough to avoid that one personal dominion guy who made the sharp left into oncoming traffic, so she’ll never meet him.
What we’re saying here is that we have maybe one shot to get this right. Somewhere there is a person who was carved from the negative space we left in the clay we were sculpted out of. If that person dies, we lose the capacity to ever whole ourselves, and are doomed to walk the earth searching for meaning in vain while we wait for our death, and maybe then, reuniting with our other-and-probably-best-described-as-better half.
Problem: There’s no reasonable way to discuss our “soul mates” without also discussing our God(s) and/or our faith.
The question of soul mates, for me is answered by asking myself the following question(s): “Do I believe that God has not left my life to chance, or given me choice by accident? Do I think I’m ‘supposed’ to do anything or be anywhere? Was I built and deployed with a purpose? Am I supposed to do anything other than be born (got it), live a bit (working on it), and die (snooze button, please)?”
Depending on how you feel about those, I think the question of whether or not you see your life as an exercise in random probability will certainly make it difficult, or will it breathtakingly easy, to support the idea of there being only-one-soul-mate-who-you-might-or-might-not-ever-find-needle-and-haystack-style-out-of-soon-to-be-eleventy-billion-people-overcrowding-this-earth.
Life is hard, and I believe in God. I believe that there is a plan for my life — an opportunity for me to pursue my personal growth and unbeaten path towards some messy rendition of the vision A Perfect Hand drew for me — I believe that I don’t always need to understand, but that I always need to listen. I believe that I have spent most of my life not listening, and have still managed to feel like I might be able to find the path again.
I don’t believe that evolution has been random. I don’t believe we are born or crafted without conscience. I don’t believe all of our paths are the same, or look the same, or even look related — I don’t believe we will all die in the hands of a human who loves us. I think some of us might struggle to not be lonely, as so often we (read: Me, Niles) only know how to rely only on humans to keep us company. But, I do believe we are provided the things that we need. I do believe that we are given hands and mouths for kissing and holding and hearts for loving, and hurts to break us so we can understand what it is to be healed by ourselves, by someone else, and by God. I do believe that God gives us enough wing to cross over the gaps we find.
I can say unequivocally that there are people I was blessed to have in my life — people who have forced or helped or watch or otherwise been present for my growth. People I could not be who I am without. People placed here to make me better — and for whom I have been given the ability to help. As corny or cliche as it might sound: I do believe in soul mates. I don’t know how many we get (I don’t understand why we would only get one life-changing-person per trip to earth). I know that they are not mistakes. I know the neither I, nor she, are mistakes.
So I guess my answer, now that I’ve ranted more than was reasonable is this: You are not a mistake. You are not a random occurence. You are necessary. So live your life as though that’s the case, and do your best to listen to your soul. You’ll know they are the one when you feel, after all this living you’ve been doing, like a person again.
i don’t know how to
comfort humans, I don’t
always understand them, us, we
don’t find history or truth
to be gentle, respectful of the sweet,
the way we prefer
our medicine; our neighbors don’t
lend out even spoonfuls of sugar like
they used to, and all the gates and triple-locked
doors make the transition from momma’s house
to the warden’s all the easier,
i wouldn’t have known how to
tell him his momma wasn’t coming
she was going to find out about this from
a phone call from a doctor
who wouldn’t pronounce his name
right, no familiar hands were
going to help carry him into his chariot
but when he was laying on
the cement, having been dragged
out of the car that flipped twice
by people who were “basically
paramedics, and knew they
didn’t have to stabilize his spine before
moving him,” who were basically just
used to paramedics not showing up
when they called, when he was
laying on the cement, he never called for his
mother or father or sister or
any one else who might have found
a way to leave him, he
just screamed out at or for God,
The hesitation that you hear in my voice is just that I’m used to alarms going off when I’m near doorways. I’m used to police approaching a crowd, and somehow always asking me what I’m doing there before they ask anyone else. I’m used to them asking me to leave, and leaving others to their business.
I’m just more comfortable standing outside. I feel more like things happen the way they are supposed to out here. Did you know that you have to be inside to die of a stray bullet, or in a house fire, or of a heart attack while you’re laying in your bed next to a woman who calls your heart her heart, and doesn’t sleep as well when you’re not there? No one ever burns to death in a house fire under a freeway overpass.
I’ve learned that jail is more likely than electrocution. I don’t often find myself living by natural trees, and lightning only strikes telephone poles in movies with time-traveling cars. I’ve learned that thunderstorms are unavoidable and aren’t all that bad.
I’ve learned that thunder is only dangerous when it’s the echo of a gunshot.
I’ve learned that stray bullets always hit who they were aimed at. I’ve learned that stray bullets are aimed at “everyone.” I’ve learned that they will only call them stray bullets if they kill children. They only get called stray bullets when they are found lodged in or near someone who has a name… Someone who will be missed.
If a bullet tumbles through a concrete forest — if it hits a man most humans couldn’t say wasn’t a tree square in the chest — does his life make a sound as it falls off his tongue?
I’ve learned that the only deaths here are murders, and overdoses, and hypothermia, and starvation. The only deaths here are ‘of natural causes.
I want so badly to die of natural causes. And so I’m standing outside. I don’t want you to miss me, but I want to be worth missing. If I never create space in your life to fit myself in, I will never create a void in your life when I leave.
I will leave.
I don’t want to go. But I don’t know what staying feels like. And so I’m standing outside. And wondering if alarms will go off when I walk through the door, or police will tell me to 'move along, if I know what's good for me,' or if you might make me the type of man who can die in his sleep, who could have an early death — who could die unnaturally — the type of man who could give a name to a stray bullet — the type of man who was expected to live.
It will be digging a grave with a Gerber baby spoon.
It will be showing up to an unmarked door, on an unmarked building, on an unmarked street, with windows that seem to be perpetually dark — there is a car parked out front that has 3 flat tires and a missing side-view mirror — and you’re knocking — and knocking — and knocking — and never turning to hide your face as the people walking past look at you strangely, or maybe sadly, or maybe lofting some other kind of pity at you as they walk past en route to more inhabitable property.
You will feel ill-suited for the tasks dripping from your hands.
It will be convincing me that we can each halve this and each still hold the whole of us together. It will be convincing me that a home is something I can have at all. It will be showing me that my hands can carry things and not break them or break myself or break yourself. That not everything in the world is sharp edged, and that if you expect everything to cut you, you either get great at bleeding or great at dropping things, and neither of those are good qualities in a husband or a carpenter.
I don’t quite remember the last time homes were something, anything, other than otherthings to be dreamt of while you wonder about whether morning will keep the streak alive, or decide that it’s already got the Guiness for “most consistent thing in the universe not called to noon and evening, and hey whatever, bro, I was here first," and call out sick today. I’m still not sure where dreams and prayers and cautionary tales intersect and diverge, or how to tell which is which when they all take turns playing the carrot on the end of a stick, a maybe hanging just out of reach, just intriguing enough to lunge for; It’s not that I ever thought I would catch it, but that I’ve seen so many beautiful things in the life I’ve spent chasing it — I didn’t have a reason to stop and just be hungry.
I’ve become accustomed to falling in love with the “almost” of it all. To the point that actually having it sounds like heartbreak. When you wake up every morning for a decade telling yourself that the “point of it all is the journey, and not the destination,” you won’t know what to do when it comes time to stop moving, so you’ll keep walking — through every room of the house — and if you’re not careful — if you don’t stop me — I will walk right back out of the front door, because destiny doesn’t happen to men like me.
I have held in rains longer than I can remember,
unwilling, maybe, to water a field that had
so consistently failed
to bear fruit, you can only till gravel
as if it were soil so long before
you have to accept that a single stem
rosed from concrete can never bloom the same
faith as it would, climbing from a bush to
greet the sun in a garden.
I never knew why, or sometimes what, I was holding back, but whatever it was felt like all I had left, so I protected it like it was my only child.
until you smiled and reminded me that I am allowed to feel something other than lost.
I haven’t known how to get home since they told me
I could no longer sleep under the ashes of my last one,
until your face dimpled
I had no clue where to break ground
building a new one —
until your face dimpled,
I was not sure that I could plant
or grow, but now all I do
is water the ground below you
and pray you always petal.
You will not always know why it is that I feel compelled to tip-jar my tithing into hats and buckets and licked-clean soup cans, the sharp edge of which has clearly kissed a hungry mouth intent on reducing food waste, and why I feel torn open by the mouths that have the scars consummated with that union. There is just something in his outstretched hands, and the gravel that echoes through his praise that reminds me of the nights I have spent turning anything I could find as holy as I could hold it and making it into a makeshift pew and altar.
I will not know how to ignore the ringing in my ears, the sound that the look of a man waiting on commuters to leave his living room makes — the unsure look of someone who can’t quite tell where it is that he feels the least alone, nor a clue as to how to seek it out; a man to whom feelings of being welcomed, and wanted, and anything more than unworthy might as well be the things that come with lottery winnings.
I would buy a lottery ticket, too.
I have bought lottery tickets, too. They always seemed to have odds-to-win as good as anything else I have tried.
There is something about looking into empty eyes, and empty hands held up to random humans as though beatifying them will turn them into saints… something about someone asking for whatever it is that they hope might keep them warm that night that will always buckle my knees.
I do not know how to stand over these people.
I will want to prostrate, or at least kneel so our tears start out the same distance from heaven and the same distance from earth when we free each other, I will cry with them. I will cry for them. I will want to hold them like a brother I thought had died years ago, overjoyed to see him again and broken that I can’t house him, if I can barely house myself.
I will look at you and not know where you are asking me to lead you. These numbers on this house don’t add up to a number I know how to count towards.
I will sleep on the back porch, so the cops do not think I am a tresspasser. I will thank you for the blanket. I will not know why you are angry — why you are crying — why you invited me here.
I love you, but I cannot stay here. I have burned down every house I have ever slept in.
Dear Dr. Heron, can I sail thru the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I’ve been afraid of changes. For a long time, probably. You get comfortable doing a certain thing. You get comfortable surviving. You get comfortable being less than happy, and eventually you stop knowing whether or not you’re allowed to want more, or if this is just life. You remind yourself of how grateful you are for where you are and who you are and the things you feel like you might be capable of. But you spend so much time building your life around you(rself) and then one day there’s someone else standing there — and you just have to jump off a cliff and hope you’re able to finish growing up on the way down.
So if I can handle the seasons of my life — time has made me bolder — I think you’re probably getting older, too…
Ask Niles: I'll come up with a catchy title, one day, but first....
Family, Friends, Followers, Tumblr —
I’m hoping to do an I’m-not-holier-than-thou advice column that actually acknowledges race and sexuality and societal norms… our position as leaders and followers and participants in a world transforming under our fingertips care of this digital revolution… our position as lovers in a world not teaching us healthy or reasonable expectations and standards and outlooks on our relationships with each other and the world… I just want to talk about how we can all do better, and the things that hold us back. And the hurdles we don’t know how to clear. And the things that make us remember happiness is worth fighting for. Myself included.
My goal is to find a outlet to publish these one day, maybe, but I have to prove I can write a compelling advice column first. Which means I need people to ask questions. If you could share - tweet - repost - reblog the above, or the below, I’d appreciate it. I need to cast a wide net and get some people to engage with me…
Your bio says you are teacher, are you a true educator, like in school?
I am not a teacher, in an academic school. I sort-of teach Kung Fu. I have lead classes on poetry before. In my bio what I mean is to say that I’m a student (from people, circumstances, culture, world around me) and a teacher in the same sense. Someone somewhere is learning from my actions and thoughts and words. I’m trying to make sure I hold myself accountable to that, because bad teachers ruin students perceptions of topics.
Thank you for your beautiful words. I'm also from metro Detroit area and I'm so proud to know of a local artist whose words are so profound that they speak to me like they were meant for me. That's what great poetry does. Always, I thank you.
You’re so welcome. I feel like I should thank you, though, not the other way around. I’m still getting used to the intersection between writing only for myself, and letting the fact that I know people might read something I write unduly influence what I’m writing… (people like politically bleached topics like love more than charged and still bleeding ones like race or patriarchy or classism — many would rather read 10 words than 100)…
It is so gratifying when my attempts at staying honest and directed towards my goals is a format and path that works for someone else. I’m humbled. Thank you.
During a very trying moment I came on your blog and read your work. You gave me clarity that I wouldn't have found in any place else. Thank you for pulling me out of the darkness with your words. Love, an admiring poet.
I’m so grateful that you were able to find anything in my attempts at documenting my own searches and losses and losts and founds.
Thank you for bearing with me. I’m glad we get to grow and chase lighter things together.
even with hands built
to carry peace
over troubled waters,
i am only steel and
concrete; only submerged pillars
breaching, desperately reaching
toward heaven so
painfully accustomed to coming up short —
misdirected suspended roads,
i am a bridge to nowhere unless
I have your shores
to land on and name
I love you, but maybe
it’s that I love the way
you love me,
the way you reached up for me like
I was suspended in the sky, held the back
of my neck like I was made of clouds, and
kissed my face like your mouth
was a mut, mixed from mustard seeds and
the kinds of mountains people climb
to separate themselves from mere mortals.
you took a chisel to your chest,
split your sternum,
spread yourself open, and
told me I wouldn’t have to
use cardboard signs and street corners
to mine blessings
anymore, the way you
looked in my eyes
birthed me whole
i didn’t know she
existed outside my dreams.
i’d never been good at keeping
my hands empty, or
my cup watered, or keeping flowers
alive, until my knock-knock jokes
bloomed and ran over the edges; until
I became more