Joe Roberts

Writing Poetry in Anger Management

I’m losing it; straight through my hands—the days; innumerable; immaterial like the dry leaves, the paper littered about the house; a collected hush brushed across the carpet. Still, every Sunday I go to anger management; it’s the only place where I don’t feel mad, where I can open my fists—unfold; just phase out. An old white man leads our group—all the usual features: white hair, cardigan, grandfatherly jowls and hand gestures (‘See, what you need is to set goals.’), though, he was a lifetime smoker and still has the cough. Sputters like a furnace—a monkey wrench rattling down in the belly of his throat. At class, he says: ‘Breathe. It’s important—mindfulness; it’s what we’re here to learn—’ a hard explosion—a hot scatter-shot of phlegm—like ashes caught in the throat, choke; he seizes, contorting. His face: red, scored with lines, hardened like a bulbous boulder. Afterwards, his throat’s exhausted, hoarse. Years of smoking, shouting, have taken their toll. Wonder if he ever had any kids, was married. Wonder if he shouted at his daughters. Shouted right in their faces, flecks of spittle spraying like hot shards of shattered glass. Wonder when his wife got fed up, decided: leave the fucker to rot in the home of his own heart. Was it when he shattered the platter on their youngest? Plastic littering the floor like glass. Or what about when he nearly broke his ankle? Twisted it like chewing gum. That’d been a ravenous time. The girls in their nighties, quietly playing on the carpet, hair slick, still wet from their bath. He’d walked through the door, already tired and annoyed to all hell when slip, scramble—it’d been quick; shirked his briefcase down on the floor—summoned the girls, lined them up like prisoners. Demanded to know whose it was; why’d it been on the floor—all questions he already knew the answers to. Trembling, shaking, something starts to surround them, something thick like quicksand; a sinking in their stomachs—hot, horrible—choking their throats, red welling in their ears—slight stinging, ringing. Slop-chop-glop, splash the stained glass—sun, sky, sea—sinking into the sting—drowning in the boiling glass. Wonder how it must have looked to her. Coming back to the house from a smoke—had seen his car, thought it’d been fine to step out for a minute—then, through the window panes, frames of the scene: his grasp, thrash, the girls gripped by the arms—she almost laughed, it must have been a joke—but the slow realization, creeping cruelly around the corner; it not stopping, only getting worse. And then gone, but not really—she took the good suitcases—the ones without the shitty rollers or chaffed corners—but left the house full of her presence—the kitchen, her cook books, her planner, the fridge plastered with photos. The girls—the playroom, the play sets, the dollhouses, their ponies and teddy bears—and little lemon duckies in the tub, crushed underfoot every shower—toys everywhere. I shoulda bought em more books he whispers under his whiskey breath, stalking around the house late at night, as if they were sleeping, as if he didn’t want to wake them, her. Her. The house still carries her scent. For days he tries to forget the Johnson’s on her wrist, scent of Camel Blues on her lips, always in her hair: a burned down oak cabin, such an ashen aroma. She never did it around the girls.
***
I open the door and let the days in, filling the house with forgetfulness—anything to get rid of S.’s scent; it’s what ghosts are made of, a lingering perfume; a gaseous cloud, heavy as bromine—fucking up the house with its fog, the stench of cigarettes and soap—this kind of forgetfulness makes you feral, restless. You’re white noise 70% of the time, apathy on high volume—absolutely absent. Your rituals: tracks for the ghost train—conducted, conduct: steps in the static; rise, shit, shower, shave, breakfast, work, lunch break, home, dinner—repeat.
Going to every little league game. Risking getting fired just to see Amanda—only girl on the team, best hitter. Saturday mornings, silver on the clouds—making breakfast for the girls, NPR on the radio, sipping coffee, watching them play in the backyard—digging, making potions, trying to sacrifice the dog—too many Old Testament stories in Sunday School. Riding their bikes in the street, people driving recklessly—it drove him to one of his better moments: standing in the street, home early from work, in safety vest with stop sign and traffic cones—tirelessly policing, watching the road—the girls cycling around him. Always holding their hand when crossing the street; so adamant about protecting something from the world for just a little bit longer; picnics in the park, chasing pigeons. Snuggling his stomach on Sunday Afternoons; TV on low, rays of sunlight lilting through the windowpanes, Sunday papers cluttered, sleepy. Sighing, relenting; driving back to McDonalds. Feeling like a pushover but being okay with it. Feeling like part of a tribe—a part of something greater. Laundry; wicker basket, confusing the detergent with the softener; watching the girls run around naked—bath time—chaos, utter panic; S.’s night out with the girls.
The wind kicks in at the doorway. Smoking, drinking, this is my perch, my position—sifting through all the memories, like the leaves on the floor—bottle of Kessler by the TV—Camel Blues she left on the dresser—the buried teddy bears—wait, let me get back to the story: He’d never been violent. A slap here, a hair pull there—they were small things. Admonishable, improvable. It wasn’t like he’d meant to do it—like it’d been intentional. He’d wanted to be a good father, husband. Every man did. But the children had started biting their nails, averting their gaze—like beat dogs. Their hair had started falling out—they were disproportionately thin.

Bio

Joe Roberts is sick. Literally. He’s here in Thailand dying of a lamentable sickness only curable by an emergency supply of Cheetos, raisins, and Sprite. Joe was born and raised in Houston, Texas—educated at the renowned University of Houston where he spent his formidable years pulling all-nighters to write papers that he should have started weeks ago. Should you wish to challenge him and his knowledge of hardcore punk music please come to Lom Sak, Thailand—he’d be more than happy to make you a sloppy cup of green tea. Also, his poem seen here is a work in progress.