Life Unmitigated – Guest Poetry Blog # 14 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American Poet Christopher Locke – Part One of Two

American Poet Christopher Locke

Waiting for Grace

Waiting for my daughter’s school bus, a March
afternoon brushed haunted and grey, I keep
company with the clouds, their gaunt reflections
charcoaled atop our pond, the wind tugging its iron
cloak around trees standing nude along the shore,
as if between acts and someone has stolen their
beautiful gowns. I feel feral and alone, slouching
in my black coat and sipping a Pepsi One, thinking
again I’ll never shake my lust for pills, narcotics
which have unknit my life so completely. I close
my eyes and concentrate on something brighter,
take another swig off my harmless soda. Above
me, a small abacus of birds fills a telephone
wire, and I smile when I think of her, my daughter
Grace: ten-years-old and sunk deep in a harem
of gossip as she navigates fourth grade; deciding
at lunch which queen is ripe for the plucking. And
if it isn’t hysteria wrought by the Jonas Brothers,
then it’s the complaint her arms are too fat, holding
them out, incredulous, for my wife and me to inspect.
But what she doesn’t know is that every day she saves
my life—drilling the science quiz together at night,
or just by asking that I pass the ketchup at dinner
is what keeps me here, awkward yet alive. And
now, the yellow cube of her bus rounding the corner,
stopping in front of the driveway. I see her through
the windows laughing, popping gum at her friends.
It’s only when she steps onto the pavement, crosses
the street toward me that I realize we’re both moving,
both in the process of leaving something behind.

Christopher Locke from Waiting for Grace & Other Poems, Turning Point, 2013


So pleased to be able to introduce American poet Christopher Locke and the first of his two guest poetry blog posts. His second post will feature the American poet Dennis Johnson.

I will never forget when I discovered Christopher and his poetry. I was stressed and anxious. It was 2007. I was preparing to lead my first poetry therapy session at a drug and alcohol recovery center on Bowen Island, offshore Vancouver. I had picked a poem by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and one by Canadian poet Patrick Lane to use in the session but I felt I needed another, like Patrick’s, written from the perspective of someone in recovery from addiction.

In desperation I picked up a copy of the US journal The Sun that had arrived that day. I opened it and found Christopher’s poem New Weather. Holy-frigging-hallelujah! A poem from the front-row of recovery! I wrote about this in this blog post on Christopher in 2013!
New Weather

There is no horse,
smack, H, tar, heroin,
china. No more oxy, percs,
Percocet, Vicodin, vikings,
v for victory. There is
no more coke, blow,
white, cane. There are
no more raves, parties,
throw-downs, shindigs,
soirees, or get-togethers.
There is no bliss, blissed
out, stoned, fucked up,
higher than a mother fucker,
nod, nodding, passed out.

There is no more vomiting,
bile, dry heaves, drool, spit,
cursing, clenching, blood,
crying, weeping, shaking, sweating,
sheets wet as a full bandage.

There are no more highs,
exquisite lows. There are
no more evenings collapsing
into morning, the horizon
rolling up its sleeve
to bleed pink and red
against the kitchen window.

And there is no more
me looking at you
from the doorway, trying
not to sway, defiant,
insisting I’m not gone,
I’m fine, OK, no problem,
got it together, straight, sober,
right as rain.

Christopher Locke, The Sun, January 2007

I wrote this in my 2013 post:

I was gob-smacked. Life had dropped what I needed right into my lap. A poem of such visceral intensity from someone who was obviously writing from a first-hand experience. This was as good an example of synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) I had ever encountered! All I remember from that workshop is three of the poems I used: Lane’s, Half-Hearted Moon, a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke from the Book of Hours (III, 1) and Locke’s poem. And a line one of the participants wrote: An addiction is loving what will never love you back. Yikes, the horrifying truth of that.

For a number of years Locke’s poem was a mainstay of my workshops. I used the line And there is no more as a prompt for participants to write from. And so many wonderful and varied poems have come from that prompt. And many of its lines from Chris’s poem haunt me still.

A huge thank you to you, Chris, for your poem and, now, this, your  generous-hearted blog post.


Richard and I first became friends after he contacted me online some years ago. He wanted to let me know that he’d read my poem “New Weather” in the U.S. magazine The Sun. I was just happy someone had read it. But Richard said he not only read the poem but that he liked it. I was thrilled. Then he asked something that would fundamentally change how I perceive my poems: he wanted to know if he could borrow “New Weather” to use in his workshops with recovering addicts. Sure, I thought. Why not? Book sales were sluggish—maybe one or two participants would be nice enough to purchase a copy of my latest collection afterward?

A few years later, Richard mentioned in an email that “New Weather” had been the starting point/scaffolding for the poems of over 500 people who had attended and participated in his workshops. 500. I was dumbstruck. And my surprise wasn’t about ego or self-satisfaction at the number of people who maybe read my poem, but more about the number of people who, at some point in their lives, probably had lived my poem and understood we trafficked in similar, difficult worlds.

New Weather” proclaimed firsthand what helplessness felt like, but it also knew intimately what reclamation provided. And to be fully alive and able to speak to both is a divine thing. If that poem helped someone initiate the same difficult conversation I had to have with myself, even if just a little, then that was more important to me than any book sale or social media thumbs-up. Combined, our poems could be more than singular, private renderings on loss—devices through which we jettison our suffering into some thankless void—they could evolve into a call and response with others just as stuck as we once were, trying to figure out a way back to the language of understanding. When strung together, our poems could serve as real-world applications on how to rebuild back into the heart of true things.

In general, my poems about drug use are poems about the before and after: a life proceeding a life unlived, my life now, and how to make sense of both. They confront truth when it was simpler to hide. These poems accept blame and know loss, but try and propagate joy instead of pain. Their narratives push me toward and away from mystery: how might I have died? And how can I now choose to live? And I am so glad I know the difference between both.

But, to be honest, I am more than an ‘addiction poet’; I keep searching, growing, turning the jewel over and over in my hands. I’m interested in the after-poems; the poems of daily revolution. I chip against life and chance and acceptance: aubades sung for spirits past—the blood loss and the crooked smile, but also into the possibility of light itself. I want to be ripe and raw and walking a straight line. I want to live in joy and the commonality of simple mistakes. But bigger: life unmitigated. And a handful of poems which chronicle such.

Autobiography Of The Table & The Kitchen

There have been meals I’ve loathed and meals
I’ve despised. Most recent, a rubbered patty
oozing beneath its own greased shambles at a
truck stop in Buffalo, the steam of plate-clatter
and diesel smoke the only things divine. Meals
eaten in silence when I was seven and the air
between my parents suffocated the table; doom’s
easy smolder ready to fill our lives with smoke.
Meals joyous at drive-ins slicked in ketchup and
glazed napkins. Meals of befuddlement slung
mornings after childhood sleepovers, words
like bagel and omelet birthing a new lexicon
to mouth water. Meals of Out! Out! wooden
spoon cracking the pot’s rim as children scattered
from the kitchen—giggling snipes. Meals of despair
before college, one room tenement as I jawed microwave
burritos stoned in my conviction the mattress bloomed
a Rorschach of clues. Meals of first dates palpitated
by whicker Chianti and the shedding of garments,
laughing about too much garlic as the sheets roiled
in our new hunger. Meals tilled from farmers markets
and roadside stands, Swiss chard a study in rare
plumage; waxy peppers shined like the tongues
of small fires. Solo meals of comfort after personal
disasters, the counter serving as respite for the maligned.
Meals of regret and meals of plenty. Meals
of family faces ensconced around a tablecloth
saved crisp just for meals like that. And meals
with you, simple across the table, all those years of
what we’ve said and what we couldn’t. Meals best
enjoyed with our eyes instead of our stomachs, meals
when we couldn’t fill our mouths fast enough. The meal
we had at a busted kitchen table in our new apartment
25 years ago, surprising you first with purple irises,
bottle of Cote du Rhone hollowed dry, the way you
stared at me, and me at your working mouth, your hair
swooning against your collarbones with a rhythm
I had grown to love, and me finally putting down
the fork and the knife, and lifting the napkin from
my lap, and coming over to you and raising us up
to the many-toothed stars and all their crying out.

Christopher Locke from Autobiography of the Table & the Kitchen from Music for Ghosts NYQ Books, 2022

BIO: Christopher Locke was born in New Hampshire and received his MFA from Goddard College. His poems have appeared in The North American Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Poetry East, Verse Daily, Southwest Review, The Literary Review, The Sun, West Branch, Rattle, 32 Poems, Rhino, ARC (Canada), The Southeast Review, Spillway, and The Adirondack Review, among others. He won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, as well as grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. 25 Trumbulls Road, his first collection of fiction, won the Black River Chapbook Award. His new book of poems, Music For Ghosts (NYQ Books), and memoir Without Saints (Black Lawrence Press) were both released in 2022. Chris lives in the Adirondacks and teaches English at SUNY Plattsburgh.

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