“My Beautiful Father the Fire Bird” by John Gosslee

John Gosslee


Today is the day of finishing little tasks. 

The words of his body locked in a stroke
the doctors can’t edit.

*   *   *

He walks through the brown field
in Vietnam, the ambush,
agent orange pedals in the sweat.

The nurse spoons in pureed beets,
wipes his mouth, elevates the dead hand
that was filled with fire.

*   *   *

He held my wings in one hand,
the scissors in the other
and after the clip I beat my wings
so much harder to fly. 

He steers my face’s pale fire
from the psychiatrist to the hospital,
the stomach pump, the in-patient.

He says, 
whoever you become now,
I will love him.

*   *   *

And father, people have begun
to love my words, chewed so hard 
in your mouth, fed into mine.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness


John Gosslee: “As a teenager, after moving around America and Europe every few years since I was born, my family settled. I felt cornered by what I still feel is the way of the world, and I was depressed and disconnected. My parents took me to a psychiatrist. I began running away to find something that felt real. I began writing poetry. When I was fourteen, I calmly took all of the pills and medicine in the house. I was in intensive care and then in-patient treatment for a few weeks. My parents took me to more psychiatrists. I was diagnosed manic depressive and was hospitalized again at sixteen. I still wrote. It was painful to be in a place where I was not understood as the kind of creative being I knew I was. I didn’t have any connections or in-roads to a world that I saw and couldn’t access. After being off of antidepressants for almost a decade, I started having anxiety and hospitalized myself twice in my twenties. I wanted to live, I was contributing, but I didn’t have all of the tools to cope. A decade later, I’m so happy that I had those experiences and haven’t had to take any psychiatric medication for almost twenty years. I’ve learned to take the sadness and anger and channel them into something meaningful for myself and others. I have learned how to lead with my vision. Sometimes I still feel out of touch, distant, a thousand years old, but I work through it. My poems give me strength; their precision, the wisdom that I stumble into, makes even the hardest days or weeks of moods bearable, because I know I’ll have something valuable when the smoke lifts. Through all of the realization and loss, poetry remains the one consistent thing in my life, and I know to the depth of my core that I’m fortunate to have it. In poetry I have hope, I have a voice, and I have a community. This is my home.” (website)

Rattle Logo