life matters

life matters.

subject: life

verb: matters

whenever i see characters on tv or in movies submerged under water, i instinctively hold my breath for the majority of the scene (which may explain why i blacked out when trying to watch spongebob). i won’t realize i’m doing it until i get light headed – that’s how natural it is for my body to fight to live.

life matters. if you are in a burning building, how quickly do you exit? during severe weather, are you walking the dog or seeking shelter? if a car skids off the road in front of you, do you stop to help or at least mumble ‘i hope they’re ok?’

our initial instinct is to preserve and defend life – our own and of others. it can show in parents staring at the baby monitor even though everything is fine, the fact that life preservers dot the sides of boats and pools, and our own fight or flight response.


check it – sports do not matter. they don’t. we call them ‘games’ and the verb associated with them is ‘play.’ sports are an escape – a valuable one, a place where we can learn about and express ourselves through our own competition or being a fan.

sports bring together a nation – the biggest churches on sundays are nfl stadiums, where gladiators and the shield are worshiped (or booed). but the games themselves do not matter at all not one bit. everyone goes home once the clock hits zero.

life is what matters.

a symbol is meaningless if it cannot be understood (i mean, that’s why it’s important to be able to read, ya know?) or if it does not represent the audience.

the greatness of this nation, in principle, is that it is built to be open to interpretation. that is why we are, in theory, a free people, why speech and religion and the press are protected for all citizens.

so we can say and show what we think, feel, and believe.

i’m beyond tired of waking up to the news of another unarmed or unaggressive black man being shot by officers sworn to protect and serve. and i’m damn sure a lot of other people are, too.

there is no ‘but’ or ‘yeah, ok, but what about ______’ in this place.

life matters, period. the life of people and of person. colin kaepernick kneels because he believes life matters and believes, urgently, an earnest and paradigm altering conversation must take place.

considering i’m a middle class white dude, and *i* get nervous imagining myself kneeling during the anthem at an nc state game and the repercussions i might bring upon myself, i see kaepernick as one of the bravest living men in our nation.

he threatened his job security (he’s a backup and nfl contracts are not guaranteed – he could have been immediately cut and blackballed, for all he knew), his safety (he is receiving death threats) and drawing the ire of police sworn to protect (who have threatened not to provide off duty officers to provide security at games until he stands for the anthem).

love is love and love is courageous when love corrects instead of standing idly by. a family that has an intervention for an alcoholic does not hate that person – there is so much love that there is willingness to sacrifice comfort now for a greater

wait for it




in the future.

kaepernick is a patriot because he stands for life for his people and does not cower. kinda sounds like the dudes who threw all that tea into boston harbor because they weren’t represented.

i, too, will kneel, and no, that act unto itself will change nothing, but it will also open up conversations and, honestly, it will just help me sleep a little better to have expressed what i believe as opposed to what others think i should believe and do.

as he trots through clover

the fox slumped in a halfhearted semicircle of patchy fur
once blazing red now limp orange juxtaposed with exposed pink skin.
he gummed at his paws, teeth long since lost in the woods.

the sun came and went day and night.
he kept himself well shaded beneath the earth
and his eyes adjusted to see the dark.

he forgot how to run and hunt.

he did not, however, forget hunger
and she urged him to the surface.

clover parted ‘round him
and he laughed to himself
picturing this broken fox as royalty

and the scent caught him
eyes narrowed and body taut        how did this happen where has this been
a coiled spring to explode             he has teeth again his mouth is bleeding
blood and life and the miracle       bursting through his gums, sharp, white
of instinct                                        his fur blazing red again in the sun
that cannot be forgotten.               a rabbit snapped between his jaws
       hi                                                 as he trots through clover.

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

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.


a notice to my homeowners association

i’m not sure if the two chairs in the front yard of

my home on liverpool lane are against

the hedingham covenant and bylaws

of what is or is not acceptable

you see i moved them to the front yard

from my back porch a few wednesdays ago

because my memaw was going to come over

and we were going to sit together in the shade

but due to an unfortunate circumstance

i don’t think my memaw will be coming over

again, ever

so i’m reluctant to move the chairs back

because i’m sentimental and

it’s kind of nice seeing the two chairs together

the hope of two and togetherness

and a reminder to my memaw

that she is welcome here, always.