I needed seasons of dogwood,
the bloom of petals brushing
against an April sky, the way you
taught me to hoop ball in spring.
Yet I also craved wisdom from men
born under the emerald glare of streetlamps,
the aroma of hookers after blue-light sex
running through their heroin nostrils.
I walked the pearl sand of Eleuthera,
stood in Hatchet Bay’s cove—inhaled
salted sea, believed life offered nothing
greater than the Caribbean’s blue glass.
I rode the backs of section 8 mules
through customs, not knowing which trip
would be my last, lived runagate style—
free like a prayer from your wife’s lips.
The seeds I planted in those youthful years
have blossomed into a five-year sentence,
and it has taken the wring of time’s tourniquet
to bring me closer to a life I tried to bury deep.
How did you come to write “Notes From a Prodigal Son #5”?
“Notes from a Prodigal Son #5” is part of a series of poems in my earlier collection The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street. I use the epistle to dialogue with my father as the symbolic prodigal son. I was incarcerated for a total of five years and that isolation forced me to think about my future. However, in order to have a future, I had to deal with the past. The only way to look at my past was though my father who was a great model and perplexed as to how I derailed my own life with drugs and incarceration. I needed my father to forge me.
How did writing this poem affect your recovery?
Writing this poem helped in the process of seeking forgiveness. After incarceration, I still had to deal with the pain of having let so many people down in my life. The “Prodigal Son” poems became the vehicle through which the healing could begin.
Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?
I would only say that I pay attention to lyrical cadence and the sounding of things. But for me, each poetic process is different. I may favor aesthetic choices but try to remain blank each time I approach a poem. The only thing you need to know is that this poem is part of a larger series of epistles.
Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?
I claim Gwendolyn Brooks as a literary mother but love Stephen Jonas, Ed Roberson and Nikky Finney, among so many others. I would say be on the look out for Lamar L. Wilson, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip Williams, Niki Herd, Ching In Chen, Derrick Harriell and Delana Dameron. All wonderful poets.
What are you working on now?
I have just had a new collection published, Pitch Dark Anarchy, from Northwestern University Press. At this moment, I am finishing a memoir titled Father, Forgive Me.
Randall Horton is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Haven in Connecticut and the author of Pitch Dark Anarchy, a collection of poems just published by Northwestern University Press. Horton is also author of two other collections: The Definition of Place (2006) and The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (2009). He is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea González Poetry Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship. His creative and critical work has appeared in the print journals Callaloo, Sou’wester, Caduceus, and New Haven Review and in the online journal The Offending Adam. Randall is a fellow of Cave Canem and a member of the Affrilachian Poets, two organizations that support African American poetry; and a member of the Symphony: The House That Etheridge Built, a reading collective named for the poet Etheridge Knight. An excerpt from Horton’s memoir, Roxbury, is newly released as a chapbook.