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Voices of COHP



Like so many of you, I grew up in a hoarder home.  My mother was full-blown mentally ill, but in a way that people in the 70s and 80s didn’t seem to grasp.  My dad dealt with this by checking out and forging a double life, presumably with another person who didn’t collect garbage, but leaving me and my younger sister there.  With her. 


The poem that follows is my attempt as an adult to reckon with that part of my childhood, and with the woman who loomed so large in it.  It’s also my attempt to honor what I felt, growing up as so many of you did, living in filth.  Snapshots of that time and a desperate wish to know… why.  I haven’t learned the why.  But I did learn one thing.


And if I could speak with myself at six (or maybe seven), I’d hunker down on my heels and make eye contact with that little boy, and tell him that his mother is sick in a way he can’t understand.  That it won’t always be like this.  That one day it will get better.  That one day he won’t live in trash tunnels that make him want to throw up, all the time.  That one day he won’t have to carry all this terrible weight on his small, bony shoulders, and that he will be able to breathe in his own home.  That he will make friends who will help him along the way.  And that love isn’t poison.




Escape Velocity


I am a speck in orbit

Moving at speed, but regarding you,



Your angry swirling yellow, so far below the soles of my boots

Miles below me

Or above?  There is no way to know, and

No way that it would ever matter

Right-side up?  Upside down?  Meaningless in the face of

The truth

That you loom, and I am tethered

To your well


The strange and unlikely gravity of you, because

You are dead now, but somehow not gone

Not dissipated

Still here, derelict

Even animated

The awful potency of your atmosphere remains

But under cover of your clouds,

Beautiful, from this safe distance, I have to say

In the way that a swollen droplet of venom


At the needled tip of

A single fang

Of a hypnotic cobra, swaying

Or an iridescent chemical spill

Can be beautiful

Is there a steady place to stand?


Are you a gas giant now?  No core, but a crushing end

Beneath your smothering yellow veil?

Or is there some rocky stormswept hell in the mist below, on which

I could stand


Your dirt on my white boots

The crush of greasy sand underneath, felt, but

Unheard over your storm, the shriek of your wind

And the helmet I must wear to even dream of being here

The seal of my suit keeping me clean inside

At least that was its design

Not much light reaches this place; it never has

Buffeted in your gale, nothing to grasp


Visibility zero

Scrabbling, wispy panic

Rising in my chest 

Because there is no way to really know now

And there is nothing for me here but death

So heavy in the pull

Of your toxic gravity

I would strain to lift my gloved hand

And watch you sunder my armor like tissue

Your acid

Breaching me, on and through my skin

In my mouth

My lungs

Searing every molecule of me

On my knees, my hands, convulsing, panicking, prone, still

I cannot breathe

Your lifeless soil an inch away from

My eyes


Still seeing

Pebbles, black sand, a ghost of quartz

Scratching and marring the perfect glass of my faceplate

Conscious, and hideously aware, as you finally take me


A blink


And I am back in your silent orbit

I was never that close to you, except in imagination

Safe and drifting here, with thankful distance

Even this cold black is preferable to seeing you

So closely

There is death here too, right on the other side of my pristine bubble

But no poison, no acid, no screaming

My suit is clean and


Inhaling deep cool lungfuls of bottled air

Yes, you are beautiful

From up here

Me, only an observer, dispassionate and still

Imprisoned in orbit around you, as always

Watching you

A dead, but still deadly, thing


Escape velocity has ever been beyond my capacity

Though I wish it were different

A dreamed-of joy

To watch you truly recede, becoming

Smaller and smaller

Dimmer with triumphant distance

Moving fast, no longer a desperate oval

Around your center of gravity

But tautly linear, away from you

Into the darkness ahead

Swiveling my chair

To face backward

            For now

And calmly render what I owe you

Regard, acceptance, or something nameless

Something proper

But silent – we are beyond words

Watching you, still receding, in new clarity

A weary tailgunner, any threat far out of range

Finally able to apprehend your true border

Where you end, and sterile vacuum begins

A death in silence that I would choose

But one only wished for

Because escape velocity

Is beyond me


I wanted to start with him, you see

A reckoning no less important

Yet somehow easier, I thought

But you loom so large

A pus-filled, reeking tempest below me

(Or above, not that it matters)

So my work is here, for now

And it requires



Could you have been other than what you are?

Was the malignancy written in your double helix?

Or did they do it to you

With the post-traumatic stress of their own privation?

As they birthed and raised you with gnarled Depression hands,

Dustbowl dirt ground into the creases of their knuckles?

Hands that would later release you into adulthood

Reluctantly, and oh, forever tethered

Hands, still later, that would deny hope of rescue?

None for you, in your self-made bed of crusted linen

Deep in the trash-warren tunnels of your making, your hoard guarded

More jealously than Smaug

Priceless and worthless

And no rescue for me either, incredibly, or for her

Not even for her

We were not invisible in your tunnels, we did not hide there

We were not trash


It was

None of their business, of course

Ossifying into irrelevance, except for the obligatory holiday

Cigarette smoke, stale coffee, and Mentholatum

And the painted-on smiles, dutifully praising a wholly absent god

And pretending

That we were not suffocating

And burning

Poisoned and alone


I am much lower now

Danger close to orbital decay

I need to get close if I’m going to learn anything

And I have to go fast

Snarling and determined, a speeding bullet above the clouds

Skimming the dirty yellow caps

Like wavetops

I can smell you here, or maybe it’s just

The memory of your scent



I can smell you through my suit and my hull

I realize that makes no sense – how could I smell you?

Another worn memory, then

Stench is nothing new to me, or interesting


There was no hero to offer rescue

No Indiana Jones

No Luke Skywalker

No James Tiberius Kirk

No Batman

But we lived in Arkham, didn’t we?

A filthy asylum for one

Plus your living baggage, struggling to breathe

Alive, yes, but just two more


This one with an uncertain smile and too many questions

That smaller one with the golden-brown hair and blue eyes

A cuckoo’s nest otherwise abandoned

Ruled by a mad queen

With a glutton’s taste for stuff and lies and the labyrinth

At least I’ve been released from your words

Your pious firehose spew, now silenced

No more fresh, new confusion

Only the countless piled, insectoid husks of confusions past


Any lower, even at this redline pace

And I’ll be tasting your miasmic grit in my teeth

So I’ll try

To stay

As close to you as I can, but still

Maintain course and speed

Scanning for something


That I haven’t catalogued a thousand times already

The banality of you, well-worn

But still light years away

From being understood


You’re out until later, and

I’m alone in the tunnels

I’m twelve and scared, but so proud

My stomach kinked and knotted

Contemplating my gift

To you

My back a little straighter, because

I didn’t throw up


I’m growing out of my weak stomach

I’ve just cleaned the refrigerator

Its horror show of rotting things

Mold and decay

Gingerly removed, my fingertips pressing too easily in

Hating myself a little for being squeamish

But the smells

In three tight trash bags now

Hardly believing I kept it down, although

I swallowed hard once

Or twice

I may have tasted bile and I guess

That’s kinda like puking, but still

The point is

It’s white and clean inside now

Smells like Windex or heaven

Imagining your smile of surprise

You’re home

Look at what

I did

Watching your face change, understanding too late, that

What I had cleaned

Wasn’t THE refrigerator

It was YOUR refrigerator

And it wasn’t even cleaning

It was rape

Your face, rage-twisted and purple

And the animal howls

And the screams

And the tears

Face stinging and hot from the slap I didn’t try to block

Barreling up the stairs

Footfalls on piles of filthy clothes

Jumping over old newspapers stacked on the landing

I’ve learned where to step, what to leap

You’d think I’d have learned whose refrigerator it is

But nope, too stupid

Not quite making it to the toilet

The bile is in my nose and I can’t breathe


Flying so fast now

A meter from no return

Alarms pealing, clanging, hurting my ears

I wasn’t meant to do this

But there’s no other way to know, is there?

And still survive

True knowledge would still not be worth the cost

Of standing on your terrain

Everything is screaming


But not just yet

This is the only way to honor you, finding

Some part that I didn’t see, but that

I intuited

Centimeters from death in your hopeless contamination

Raw lightning in the clouds

Recklessly fast

Hoping to see what I can only imagine


Eighteen and leaving

Getting out

I get to leave

But she has to stay

Because she’s nine


That means

I’m leaving her there, alone

In the warren

I close my eyes and see hers

Do they plead with me, those blue eyes?

I can’t take her to the college dorm with me

How ridiculous an idea


Eyes squeezed shut,

I leave, and the air is fresh

I’m free

Not feeling the guilt

Except maybe a little

It’s not my fucking job

None of their business, of course

To save her

To save anyone

            Pretending we were not suffocating

Not understanding that I already had

The thorns around my heart

Of a guilt that was now, and would

Always be

Part of me

Ever after


I knew better than to leave her there

And I left her there

I left her in that

I left her with that

I left her


A millimeter from death, so pants-shitting fast

Skimming clouds that feel like treetops now

Slicing them, I am a razor, here and gone

If there is love, I’d better see it soon

Because I refuse to die here

A doomed Icarus

Seconds from system failure

And so far to fall

You will not have that from me

I’ll pull up when I’m good and ready

Wondering now if this speed might be enough

To break my orbit


Alive but forever after ignorant – I could live with that

Because I won’t want to come back here again



To this smell

Dirty laundry left to ferment

A vague suggestion of buried shit

And the roaches

This carpet will have to be replaced

But of course I wouldn’t have thoughts like that until later

Because I’m six

Or maybe seven


And I just don’t have the words for this

I don’t know how to tell you that it’s killing me

I’m six, or maybe seven

Far beneath understanding

Right now I have to focus on saving Gotham City, as that is my mission

Because I’m Batman

Wearing a worn dishtowel as a cape

Billowing behind my shoulders

Chest out, tight fists on my hips, standing in front of the box fan

Next to a dried and scaly bowl of yesterday’s Cap’n Crunch

The hero Gotham needs


I’m Batman

And I can tell you I’m Batman

I can tell you that just fine

But I can’t tell you about the poison

The poison of you

All around me, so huge

And what it’s doing to parts of me

What you’re doing to parts of me that I think I’m going to need later

Because you’ve named it Love

God, you’ve named it

You’ve named the poison Love


I can’t understand why you did this

Why you’re doing this

Why anyone would do this

I cannot understand this

And I cannot talk about this

And I cannot cry about this

Because even at six

Or maybe seven

I’m a big enough boy to ask myself the first of a lifetime’s questions

What kind of ungrateful, worthless son

Would cry

About being so deeply Loved?


My hands and forearms are on fire now

With this effort

Holding this course and speed


What if I just let go?

Feel your atmosphere take me as I tumble down

End over end, a long arc into you

Would I burn up?  Or would that be too quick for you?

Tumbling through your poison, speed bleeding off

In a chest-rumbling shriek of torn metal and the howl

Of putrid wind?

Falling into you, helplessly spinning, an echo of tens of thousands

Of earlier helpless moments, smaller ones

Would that please you?

Or would you wail for me like a wounded animal?

Some sane part of the ghost you’ve left behind

A final failure written nowhere on your epitaph

Just known to you and to me?


No, I won’t really let go

I was just wondering

But I’m travelling so fast

So impossibly fast

And my muscles do hurt

To linger here would be foolish

So there will be no lingering

A quick pass, and I’ve learned one thing, maybe

At least

Something is rattling around in there

So I pull back, and begin to rise

Millimeters, centimeters, meters

Above the mottled cancer of your stratosphere

Above the acid that eats at my hull, making it




I’ll have to replace that

I’ve never gone so fast

If escape velocity is possible

Maybe the last time pays for all

Maybe we’re about to find out


Even now, I hesitate to call you evil

And grasp instead at cold exonerating pathology

For how can one be poison and not be poisoned?




You didn’t have to name it Love



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