Lynn Houston: “At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return”



At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return

By Lynn Houston


In August 2016, while at a writing residency, I met a man who was already supposed to have deployed with his National Guard unit. We were given the gift of three weeks before he left, time we used to get to know each other, as we helped out on a friend’s farm, had long conversations on a porch swing, and rode his motorcycle up into the mountains. The night before he left the country, as he was driving to the base, we talked on the phone for over three hours. For six months while he was gone, I sent him near-daily poems in the mail. When he returned, after an initial successful reunion, it became clear that he was plagued with anger issues and other problems associated with a difficult re-entry into his civilian life. He began seeing someone else, and we broke up. In my grief, I revised the poems I’d sent him and began submitting them to poetry contests. Unguarded won the inaugural chapbook contest of the Heartland Review Press and is due to be released in December 2017, with a series of readings and book signings in the Elizabethtown, KY, area scheduled for early 2018.


At the Harbor Lights Motel After You Return

The fish aren’t biting on Key Largo
the morning we spend together
after you return. You nap all day,
sheets spiraled like a carapace
around your torso and legs.

Next to you in bed, I touch your head,
stroke the hair you’ve grown long,
and ask what it was like over there.
But you pull the blankets higher
and turn away to face the wall.

Hours later, I call to you from the doorway
to show you a snapper on my line. You dress,
find me on the dock where we drink beer
as the sun slumps behind the palms.

You sleep through the night, and in the morning,
before you leave for a dive on a coral reef,
you tell me that turtles sleep like humans do—
you’ve seen them at night tucked into the nooks
of wrecks, heads withdrawn into shells;
you’ve seen their eyes blink open in the beam
of your dive light; you’ve even seen one wake
and swim away when a fish fin came too close.
They have nerve endings there, you tell me.
They can feel when something touches their shell.

When you return from the reef, I ask you
again how it was over there, and this time
you begin to tell me what you can.


Editor’s Note: This poem is the third of a series. The first poem, “On the Farm, Before You Leave for Afghanistan,” and the second poem, “You Leave and I Can’t Sleep” were published in late 2017.


About the Author: Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry appears in numerous literary journals–such as O-Dark-ThirtyGravelPainted Bride QuarterlyOcean State ReviewHeavy Feather Review–and in her three collections: The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press), Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books), and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press). For more information, visit


Image Credit: Loggerhead Sea Turtle (digital art based on a photo from

“Language and Loss” By John Guzlowski

The ones we left behind. My mother’s brother and his family. The Soviet Union




Language and Loss

By John Guzlowski

My friend the writer Christina Sanantonioand I have been having a conversation about writing about loss. It’s a conversation fueled in part by the suicide of the novelist David Foster Wallace back in 2008. She wrote me a long letter about how we use or don’t use language to talk about loss, and about how hard it is to write about loss.

One of the things in her letter that really resonated with me was something she said about one of my favorite writers, Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivorand author of Survival in Auschwitz, who, like Wallace, apparently took his own life. Primo Levi frequently talked about the frustration of trying to write about loss and suffering, especially the loss and suffering he and so many othersexperienced in the Nazi camps. He felt we needed a new kind of language to talk about what happened there. Christina wrote that we ache for a language that doesn’t exist.

I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to find words to describe what happened to my Polish-Catholic parents in the German concentration and slave labor camps and what those experiences make me feel. I write about this event or that image; and no matter how powerful the original event described by my mother or father I can’t really describe it, explain it, bring it out of the past. I can’t bring it out of memory into this life. Instead, I’m left pushing around some words, trying to make myself feel what I felt the first time I heard that story when I was a child. Sometimes I think I almost succeed, but most of the time I know I’m not even close.

For me the poems that work best are the ones with my parents’ actual words in them. Those words are the real thing. In my poem “Here’s What My Mother Won’t Talk About,” my mother refuses to tell me anything about the murder of her mother and her sister and her sister’s baby and her own rape. All she will say to me is “If they give you bread, you eat it. If they beat you, you run.Likewise in my poem “The Work My Father Did in Germany,” my dad tells me what he said to the German guards who tormented and beat him and blinded him, “Please, sirs, don’t ever tell your children what you’ve done to me today.” There are bits and pieces of their words scattered throughout my poems, and when I read these words out loud my parents are there with me. I’m again a kid listening to my dad tell me about the day he saw a German soldier cut off a woman’s breast or listening to my mom tell me about the perfect house she lived in in the perfect woods in eastern Poland before the Germans came. My parents’ words are a kind of magic for me.

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