Harrison-Shepherd – had been eagerly named

Harrison Shepherd had 
been eagerly named. 
His parents had imagined him as
priestly famed,
A vicar of the church, a
shepherd of the flock;
But, Harrison worked barges
early at the dock.
The Good Shepherd had set fire
to the neighbours shed,
His father raised a knife, and
told him he was dead!
So he was not destined, to
live by Jesus’ tome,
His parents abandoned him,
to a wayward home.
It was barrels and boxes
set his heart afire,
Not lofty incantations
of the holy spire.
A pack a day, a drink at
night would set him right;
In alleyways he’d stumble
for a prick to fight.
Once his barge held elephants
destined for the Zoo,
And Rhine-bound film crews, he’d
entertained them too.
Harry had no children, he
always worked alone,
No lover’s kiss to greet him with-
in a welcome home.
Harry cast legges wide, at
a nightly brothel,
Mad with death stink and drink, he
began to throttle,
He thought it were a game when
her neck snapped in pain,
So she lay there still as wood,
blood ran from a vein.
At ninety four Harry’s un-
forgiven evil,
had served him time-life in the
prison of the Devil,
Life he got, life he lost, he
never knew the cost,
Clawing at his skull his De-
mentia like a frost.
Shuffling a walker and skin-
sack of old dried bone,
Harrison walked the lane all
shot with cortisone,
His catheter was swinging
with his sea-boat sway,
His nurse had been asleep and
he’d stolen away.
The snow was thick around his
shoeless sockless feet,
Dark memory allowed him
only to retreat,
To the cracked and broken
House of God to see,
Harrison’s pulpit built, quote,
“’specially for thee.”
The wind tore at his clothing,
cutting at his neck,
The ruined halls lay silent,
calling him to check.
Out, it cried to him for life
in grey misery,
Gravestones cried as cold as death,
at lost history.
He’d forgotten who he was,
“Wait, where do I live?”
Harry was too weak to even
know what to forgive;
But, all he saw was blood-and-
bone snap crazy necks,
blue-black red-white lights, beg him
to pay respects.
He lay his head upon a
Stone he felt the cold,
crack his bones into a lost
statue of grey gold,
Sun pierced tears shimmered joyous,
In the light to show,
An elderly man, in a
shrouded tomb of snow.
Dementia beguiled him with-
out the jury trouble,
A snow-sheet fine casket in
amongst the rubble,
A corpse-body blackened, in
nights of the ill-famed,
Harrison Shepherd had
been eagerly named.
© Iain Sutherland, 2013.
Header by Maureen Taylor
Photo edited – From hereefijergnjerkljg

26 thoughts on “Harrison-Shepherd – had been eagerly named

  1. Very well done, Iain. I am personally more familiar with rhyming poetry, so this poem stands out from the rest to me in that way. That aside, I love the storyline you have created! To me it rings so very strongly of an obviously troubled person, whom no one chose to help with his issues once he let their expectations down. I feel a pang of guilt that I might treat someone who simply seems like a bad person with the same disdain that even Harrison Shepherd’s parents showed him. Were they to stay by him, help him, guide him, would the outcome have been different?… Perhaps not, but at least then he would have someone who loved him.

    Then at the end, not even knowing what it was that he had done wrong! Society would have forgotten his wrongdoing, no one would be there to grieve him, he would simply go away and be forgotten like the rubble of the church that was designed for him. Very powerful. I have to ask, the “Sun pierced tears [that] shimmered joyous”, were they joyous for him merely because he knew it was finally the end? Or because he felt some sense of relief and release from his torment after seeing the pulpit that could have been his other life?

    • Ah! Jonny! I’m so pleased you’re on WordPress, there is such a wonderful community here, and I’m glad you’re a part of it–that said, I’m mostly glad that I can now follow your poetry as it comes out!

      You’ve seen everything I was trying to portray. This makes me ecstatic! I tried really hard on this one so that anyone could read it and get lost in the story, not get lost reading the story. I thought it was an interesting ethical dilemma having an ending where Harrison’s dementia, in a way, frees him from a life of torment and guilt. Those “sun pierced tears” I imagine are Harry feeling a sense of peace, and freedom–a release from the torment. I’m glad you caught the church metaphor as being representative of his own life. I also imagine, he finds peace in the ruins of this church, but he doesn’t know why. His freedom, in the end, is kind of spiritual and otherworldly.

      Thanks for such a wonderful comment! I look forward to following your own work.

      • Thanks Iain, though as you can see my writing doesn’t make it onto my blog in nearly so ubiquitous a manner as yours! In time I would like to change that, we’ll see how it goes.

  2. I like the form you’ve chosen for this piece. I’ve found it interesting to see the different shapes you use for your poems, how the short sharp stanzas shape the feel of the words delivery, or the running lines flow into the next into the next. And here, again, you’ve chosen what I believe to be the perfect form for this longer, more specific narrative. I walked alongside Harrison, an unheard observer; flitting through his timeline as an unwitting time traveler. I knew things would be hard when I watched him arrive at the home for wayward children, tatty suitcase in hand, covered in the weight of disownment. But I couldn’t stop what was coming and was left standing in the snow, thinking of all the possibilities, all the ways it could’ve gone, if maybe just one thing, somewhere in time, had been changed.

    • I am blessed that you see all I intended you to see. I am blessed that you journeyed with Harrison. Hopefully you will be blessed, and look out for the Harrisons in your life who need someone to intervene, and be that “one thing, somewhere in time.”

      As for the structure. I wrestled with it a lot. I first started with it as you see now. I later changed it into two homogenous paragraphs (before and after prison). Later, as I began to edit, I put it back as it was. I’ve also kept a very specific syllable count all the way through (7-5). Each stanza, is made up of four couplets and tells a story in itself (or a scene at least).

      Thanks for your wonderful comments!

  3. This has a nice rhythm to it. I usually don’t care for poems that don’t rhyme as much as those that do, but this poem is an exception.

    In the first two stanzas, I really enjoyed the use of the word “shepherd”. It seems to suggest that “priestly fame” is not a true shepherd. A true Shepherd lives a humble, sacrificial life. They live their live to light the way for others. They remind us of how we should live and how we should treat others.

    Jesus’ should be Jesus’s unless done intentionally. S’ form only occurs on plural objects.

    So he smoked and drank instead of priestly duties. I also have a feeling that he ended up living on the streets. Which comes into my territory even more because I’ve been considering writing a book on this aspect. Once you have entered into the homeless population, it is almost impossible to leave and trouble finds you.

    I’m not sure what Rhine-bound film crew means, but it seems a reference to Rhinestone. I get the impression you are saying he was filmed by rich film crews who didn’t really give a damn about him.

    In some kind of drunken rage he killed someone. Sounds like he killed a prostitute, but the details are kind of fuzzy here. It doesn’t tell why this happened. Probably some kind of love affair.

    The snow is not only shown to color the tomb, but is also symbolic of purity and forgetfulness. I want to say, given than, that when he is placed in his grave, he will be wrapped in purity. I don’t know whether you are suggesting that Harrison found God or whether his actions were almost never within his control, therefore God does not hold those actions against him. I’ve often wondered what God thinks about the unavoidable sin.

    Overall, I think this poem suggests that we should treat even those who seem like they have done wrong with respect, because we don’t know how they came to be there. I think the only kindness Harrison found was at the hand of God. God was the only one that did not condemn him for what he wasn’t. It also makes an interesting argument that sometimes in this life that you can’t be anymore than other people imagine you to be. While I don’t believe this is true in all things, when you’ve hit the rock-bottom of homelessness, this is one of the very things that holds you down. Without good reason to like or believe in one’s self, we often fall to becoming what others believe us to be.

    This is an excellent poem. It has inspired many thoughts in me and reaffirm my going ahead with my Bum’s Life book.

    Thanks Iain for sharing this. Another masterpiece, worthy to be printed next to the poets that have been dead for centuries.

    • True about the Jesus’s — 😀 Cheers.

      I’ll flick through a descent reply tomorrow. It’s 2am here in NZ, and I really should sleep. Daylight savings has really messed with me.

    • I suspect the parents wanted the benefits of prestige, and moral efficacy that come from knowing your son is of ‘priestly fame.’ Since they kick him out of home for burning down the neighbours shed, one has to argue how serious they were in their faith. It’s most likely it was a projection of the society they lived in.

      He may have spent some time on the streets, but he mainly worked on “barges” or small transportation ships–“Barrels and boxes set his heart afire.” The river Rhine is a famous barge river. “Rhine-bound film-crews he’d entertained them too,” is not a reference to “high brow” documentary filmmakers capturing his life on the streets; Rather, a reference to his successful career on a barge ship. He had escorted film crews who were wanting to capture the feel of the great Rhine river in their features. This poem is very elliptical. I leave a lot of this context out.

      I don’t like to give the reason for “Why” in my poems. He kills a prostitute, yes, but we are only given very few hints. 1) he liked to fight people in the streets. 2) He is a practiced arsonist. 3) He has a respectable job, with enough money to buy ‘wine, women, and song.’ 4) he visits a brothel, nightly. 5) One day his drink drives him mad to the point of murder.

      One could argue that Harrison is not the victim of other people’s expectations, but of his own conscious attempts to break-free of them. His term of “time-life” and his one notable mistake have defined his life up until the age of 94. Even if he did receive bail, he’s suffering form dementia–which is a strengthening of longterm memory, and a weakening of short term memory. The ellipses of the poem suggest a brokeness of continuity, and a focus on the past, very similar to how a dementia affected story would be told. The broken Stanzas, also reinforce this style. However, throughout the poem there is a sense of fatalism. As if he were always destined to fail, because of his parent’s expectations. The poem’s particular use of four 7-5 syllabic couplets, give the poem a sense of order, and control. Despite the frailty of his memory, and tragedy of his life, Harrison’s life is no completely out of control.

      I’m glad my poem has given you inspiration to delve ahead into your “bum’s life” book, even if the poem wasn’t expressly about bums 😛 — Thanks for your insightful comments, as usual, I very much appreciate your encouragement. The number of poems I’m producing a week has almost tripled since you started showing an interest in my work! Your comments are like a tonic to my creative pursuit. Thank you again!

      • When you said barrels and boxes, I thought you meant barrels of liquor and boxes of cigarettes.

        I think I might have caught the boat reference the first time, but then I completely missed it.

        Still really like this poem!

      • You’ve been writing too much dwarven fantasy! Only dwarves drink out of barrels of liquor! hahah all good though.

        Today I was eating McDonalds and an outline for another epic poem came to mind. I might turn it into a short story. How’s your writing going, James?

      • Well, it can still come in barrels!

        Linking up some broken up pieces of my dwarven fantasy. I usually write linearly, so I’m beating my head against the wall because this latest section came out in separated chunks.

        Slowly, namely. Slowly. I submitted Broken to a prestigious magazine, GlimmerTrain, that pays $700 for published stories without an entry fee. My first submission ever. I think that has also partly has captured more of my mind and time than I like.

        Thanks for asking!

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