bird on a field

an older man – say mid 60’s – stopped his bicycle, orange vest glittering in summer afternoon sun, quirked a helmeted-head and asked,

‘why you flippin’ them tires?’

shirtless and drenched and gasping rather gracelessly for air, my hands clawing the fabric of my shorts on bent knees as i gathered myself, i responded with a squint and,


unfazed, the man re-asked his question,

‘why you flippin’ them tires?’

he gestured to the pull-up bars between us and asked,

‘why don’t you play on them bars?’

i heard him clearly this time and was upright and walking towards him and realized

i did not have a single answer that made any more sense than the other as to why i was flipping tires in 90 degree heat on a sun-soaked field by myself.

and i realized then how absurd this looks and that I’m working muscle groups i could work indoors and that i actually don’t need to work out at all or this hard at least and that i need to pee and I’m tired and it’s hot and

i smiled and said,

‘it feels right.

i dunno,

it’s just kinda fun.’

the man on a bicycle in an orange vest considered this, lied politely saying, ‘maybe I’ll try it one day,’ and rode off.

i drank some water that was hot because it’s hot and i forgot to put my bottle in the shade, typed this on my phone, and then flipped that tire a few more times because

why not?

an open letter to people about tomorrow

memaw’s service/funeral/whatever is tomorrow.

currently, memaw’s in an urn or something of the sort at my mother’s house.

i don’t want to go to the service.

now, before you get all judgy, lemme explain;

then it’s over.

for my entire life,

i have known my memaw and pepaw neil.  they have loved me and always existed and been real.

and then pepaw died, and it was brutal hard, and i still cry every time i think of him,

but there was still memaw.

and i got to visit her on fridays.

i got to be a tall handsome man who spent time with her and i got to feel a little like pepaw.

truly, there is no higher honor

than to do or be anything like

lloyd houston neil

as the son of a mother who lost her mother,

i have been on the periphery of death.

i still got to go home and have my parents

and know i can still hear my mom accidentally use an overly-assertive tone before self-correcting

and my father’s snapping, breathy laugh when he talks about my daughter.

i cried the hardest

during all of this

flipping through a southern living in

the sun room of hospice care

when i realized one day

i will lose my mother, too.

i favor muted pastels (is that redundant?)

and lots of natural lighting

i hated the color palettes of the rooms

that issue of southern living labeled as


* * *

so, tomorrow,

i will wake, eat enough food to function

no easy task with my metabolism

get the haircut i promised my mother i would get

at thirty three, we know by now to follow through on those promises

and pick out the shirt and tie i will wear as i read aloud a poem i wrote

and say goodbye (again) to memaw.

i guess that’s all.


joel houston

to my scarlet(t) fox,

i just love my little girl.

i love her laugh

i love her eyes

i love how her face becomes a mixture of

mashed potatoes and popeye

when she is overjoyed to see me.

i love that she hits things as a sign of affection

and interest

i love that she needs to touch thisthisandthis

and maybe this

and this too and

no darlin’ those are scissors.

i love how she drops her chin

and throws that right eyebrow up

when we share a joke.

i love that she made me

more of me

i love how she loves me

and i miss her when she goes to sleep


i wish i could stay home with her every single day.

to my scarlet(t) fox,

i love you.

yes, i am sure.

yes, those two bottom teeth are adorable.

yes, i cannot wait to wake up and see you before i go to work.

i love you good morning good night,

i love you,



for my mother

curled up in a chair and facing away from me

today my mother said

i’m paraphrasing, i hope that’s ok

‘i always thought i would outshine my mother.’

to be fair, my mother, the speaking mother in this piece

has a hell of a competitive streak

if you know her you’re nodding


and she said, then, my mother,

‘and i realized it doesn’t matter.’

i was looking at wrens and a bluejay through the living room window

standing at my mother’s shoulder

and i did not say this but i thought it,

‘i am glad to know this now,

that it does not matter to outshine

my mother, because

it will be impossible.’

to my mother,

i love you, i am sorry for our loss,

memaw is a present tense, just as lloyd never left me.

i will grieve more privately

and then write about it for all the world

but i assure you, i am sad

and i am glad that your mother was yours

and that you are mine.