This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part IV: Heavy Social Adocacy


Round One: Heavy Social Advocacy

Living is tough. The world is unforgiving. While we all know this, there are certain incidents that hit us harder than others. As poets, our job to empathize and speak for those who can't. A poem touching on social concerns, like young suicides, abuse by "the system" or touching on modern "hopelessness" achieves this goal. This poem does well late in the first round after the atmosphere becomes serious. Too early and the audience is unprepared. This needs to be balanced against the poems that come before it.

Three Minutes for Dylan
This poem relates to an 8-year-old boy named Dylan, who hanged himself in Cottonwood, Ariz., in December 2004. On Jan. 22, 2005, a local 11-year-old, RayLynne hung herself. It was been the third such suicide by hanging in the Verde Valley in two months. The first was Dylan, then a 15-year-old boy, the son of Camp Verde's Town Manager. The girl's mother had a meeting with me at the newspaper I worked at. The girl's grandmother had faxed a letter to the editor thanking local organizations and individuals for support and donations to the girl's funeral expenses. The mother wanted to add some names. She came in Friday and she was tweaking on methamphetamine at the meeting. I helped her out as much as I could and made the changes she requested, but I wanted to punch her. I left work immediately after. I just wanted to break something.

Wednesday, Cottonwood
7:07 p.m.
in the air the boy hangs
suspended above the floor like an angel
his lungs are vacant of sound and life

7:08 pm
the upstairs bedroom closet door opens
slow at first
and fear explodes
mother's hands
no! struggle! rope! throat!
no! phone! fumble! 9–1–1!
no! address! son! paramedic!
no! baby! come! quick! please!
no! son! son! son …
Dylan …

she had three minutes with him
three minutes alone
three minutes to contemplate
how her eight–year–old son
could hang himself
could jump from a chair
could prepare a closet
could tie a noose
could find his lungs vacant of a reason to live
could decide at 8
that life was not worth living

she had three minutes
before they arrived
and no answer when they did

there is a word
for a man widowed by a wife
for a woman widowed by a husband
for a child orphaned by parents
but there is no name
when a parent loses a son
because the thought is too terrifying
to imagine

he was trying to speak to us
but his lungs were vacant
before he jumped
but his lungs were vacant
before he tied the noose

the ritual of suicide
speaks a language of its own
with a gun – helpless fury in a moment
with a leap from a building – surrender to the world
with an overdose – a secret shame
with a bomb strapped to your body – rage wrapped in your people's despair
but with a hanging
every step must be calculated
and there can be no doubt
of your intention

but his vacant lungs either
did not speak before then
or we did not hear him

the medical examiner ruled the case closed
with no four play
and the paramedics added one more
atrocious anecdote to their nightmares
and we, at the newspaper,
had to grapple
with how to best word the headline
and write the story
of a child who was too silent to speak
whose lungs were too vacant of breath to be quoted

no one was charged in his death
but we are criminals
because none of us stopped him
none of us heard him
none of us offered him
three minutes of silence
to contemplate his value
to tell him he was an angel worth living

he tied the noose
he prepared the closet
he jumped from the chair
but we hanged him
by not hearing the scream held
in his 8–year–old lungs

his name was Dylan
these are the three minutes I'm giving him

your turn

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