A Paroxysm in a Cycle & Other Poems

Tylyn K. Johnson

Night Talks

Owls made of our reflections watch over us, 
reflecting the low purple and tangerine glow
of the TV screen. My grandad said
he didn’t know it was one of those smart TVs.
As we talked, we left a city night unattended, soundless
in the background of our conversations.
The queasy nostalgia found in the scent of cigarettes
rests over the room as my grandfather leans back
into an old black couch textured in TV static.
His arms would be crossed, hands gripping 
in a complexion far lighter than mine, still and always blood.
He would hold his eyes closed beneath reflective lenses,
occasionally opening them to reveal eyes the colour of light itself.
Language drifts from his chest, along with
the periodic puff of a joint from a nigga he trusts.
In this new experience of knowing him, paternal,
the golden skies and joyful vices of the day
would be replaced by an all-hearing night,
a Blackness that stood still, listening to my grandfather’s
stories and reflections and laughter, with lessons like: 

  1. “Keep the door open for people to come in, but you ain’t got to take no shit.” 

  2. “Your mind remembers what people did, but don’t let a grudge eat at you.”

a breath between his words, the narratives he creates

  1. “Find someone who makes you smile in your heart.” 

  2. “What matters in life is that you like who you are.” 

Here, in hours of listening and exchanging truths and understandings,
was a reunion between me and heritage and family,
after a man a generation between us made choices
that taught me how even blood flows only temporarily.
In these moments, I was witnessing the denim-clad scripture
of a man forged from more than seven decades of living,
            of smokin’ and drinkin’ and farmin’ and escapin’
            and learnin’ and survivin’, lovin’, findin’
            reasons to live for,
                                          now, includin’ me. 

clandestine things said aloud  

I walk into the room an unspoken thing, 
a source of a grandmother’s pride,
the neglect her son chose to commit himself to,
a nearly-lost chance for a grandfather 

I’ve never really understood the nuance and place of secrets within families 

a child whose brief introduction

and sudden disappearance from view

meant that a name went repeated
             by confused siblings, something like strangers,
                       direct descendants of two crumbling towers, opposed to me 
                       as they smile at me
             and a then-new grandmother 
                       became spectator and reporter for many a spectacle of victory
                       weaving words between people and around herself 

             the grandfather was the test for how a child can be pushed away from family heritage 
                       himself a shame
                       already put out despite the fire he carries
                       having also learned to live without blood ties,
                       to choose those who choose you

a series of cruel ironies in the way people commit to secrets and sins
condemn others for not doing the same
for holding their actions to light and flame – scarred 

and here I am
pawn and witness
the violences we have inherited
the history of invasion and theft wielded by a colonial imagination
a history that dictated the vision of a Black family
pulling apart every way in which we paint ourselves 

how I come from a tradition crafted from things passed down
both ancestors and oppressors 

though none of this absolves
how I was 19 when some cousin asked me why 
they’d never seen me before
a holiday gathering of my grandmother’s family
             a moment in space and time where I lacked the words to speak
how my grandmother’s son chose to make me the ellipsis we all walk around,
and how he let a wife sever the still-fresh ties between siblings
after she severed us all from a grandfather,
a man that loves with a laugh that spoils you,
something I learned late 

and it was all my mother could do
to keep a door open for me to see all these breathing diaries
and to hold me
a truth never meant to be hidden 

             and I sit here, deciding
             would it be worth it?
             to be a light
             that sears confession from the pages they tried to hide 
                          and stand on language as my mother taught me

A Paroxysm in a Cycle

years of tongue-bitten rage, waiting
to spill from silky-satin lips, already
displayed across a furrowed brow, scarred
by the kinds of feelings that memories leave behind, clear
even in their fading and the space they take, engraved
as part of the earth that this body becomes, still
for the photograph to memorialise its existence, recorded
in the words of this eulogy, how
all these flames bellowed in a belly til it turned ashen, now
buried with thousands of grieving songs, uplifted
by a million voices who may never know the spirit, whose
anger matches only a desire for joy in its fullest self, something
you might claim as “all-consuming” or “relentless,” know
I choose to name it “Black” as its carrier, forever
healing from bloodstains pressed down by twisted strands of hair and genes, becoming

Tylyn K. Johnson (he/they) is a floating writer from Naptown, IN. He writes from traditions of storytelling and empowerment to reflect a complex love through the framed lenses of Black Queer artistry. Their language appears in just femme and dandy, The Indianapolis Review, the lickety~split, and Rigorous, among other spaces. A recipient of the 2021 Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, they performed readings and obtained writing awards at the University of Indianapolis. Tylyn also created “Communal Creativity: A Game of Poetry” on itch.io. His projects and social media can be found at https://linktr.ee/tykywrites.

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