If You Find Yourself

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poems by

Brian Patrick Heston

ISBN: 978-1-59948-493-8, 80 pages, $14 cover price

Winner of the 2014 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award

Release Date: December, 2014


BHeston_PxBrian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He holds an MFA in fiction from George Mason University and an MFA in poetry from Rutgers University. His poems have won awards from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, and the Lanier Library Association. He is the author of the chapbook, Latchkey Kids, which is available from Finishing Line Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as Many Mountains Moving, Rosebud, Lost Coast Review, West Branch, Harpur Palate, 5AM, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, and Tupelo Quarterly. Presently, he is a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University.

In the world of Brian Heston’s wonderful debut, beauty and brutality sing together. His expansive lines traverse elegiac scenes of urban poverty, childhood violence, and heartbreaking familial strife with an unflinching incisiveness few are able to match. Yet, in this collection there are also moments of compassion and transformation: a parking lot is illuminated by the momentary presence of a tropical bird, abandoned property becomes indistinguishable from Elysian fields, and a father’s life of unrewarded travail is forgotten when he wakes in the summer of his youth. Throughout our encounters with human squalor and viciousness, we are guided by the author’s sensitive intelligence until, ultimately, we come to realize the marvelous necessity of this work: Heston’s is a poetry of survival. —Danielle Cadena Deulen

Brian Heston’s If You Find Yourself explores the streets of Philadelphia with the street-wise wariness of a survivor—it is packed with the sharp details of someone who notices everything that might keep him alive. These tight, explosive poems have a kick that will linger in your gut long after you put the book down. They seem to ask, how much monster do we have to be to survive, and how much heartbreak are we allowed in a world where heartbreak is a luxury? Truly a stunning, memorable debut. —Jim Daniels

“The news has been filled with the signs,” Brian Heston writes in his debut collection If You Find Yourself, and every poem suggests the end of days— “another apocalypse” of violence and disorder. Equal parts melancholic and manic, nostalgic and no-nonsense, the eschatological blues of Heston’s poetry remind us that every day is the Day of Judgment.  —Eric Pankey




He’s never done this before.
Out of work since last November.
Now he’s taking classes
at Philadelphia Community College
to earn his GED.
He studies what’s above,
its puzzling geometry.
He scored Bs in math in high school
before dropping out at sixteen.
He keeps the stereo quiet,
the television dark.
Karen’s at work—
kids are some teacher’s problem
for another five hours.
Walls white as a chapel’s
hold up the rooms above
and are about as high as the linden
a nor`easter took last year.
Bill’s directions are spread out on the floor,
so he can look down on them
from his rickety ladder.
The circular saw screeches,
gnawing metal, the hammer echoes
when it strikes the nail.
He’s built before: backyard deck, floor—
installing bucket seats
in our father’s 68 Chevy
back in `83.
He ascends his ladder again
to get a closer look.
He’s messed up somewhere
and now looks to fix it.




It’s like when your fist connects to that sweet spot
between the jaw and neck. One jaw shatters
easy as another, and if you listen, you can
hear it. But it’s not how they say, your mind
going blank and you seeing black. Everything
gets bright, and time slows down, so you can see
weeds growing from the sidewalk. They asked,
“Was it planned?” It wasn’t and it was. Dude probably
thought we’d kick him a while then let him jet.
That’s what we thought, too. We cornered him
in the lot behind Newt’s Playground; we were
far from any window or door. Doug was the first
to use the bat. We took turns after that. No one
punked out. We were long gone before the first siren.
No one even said “cops.” What really stopped us
was boredom. After a while, it didn’t mean anything,
like burning a dead cat. I’ll tell you, it does stay
with you, attaches itself to some unreachable place
you never knew existed. They say you’re hollow after.
That’s not true, either. Dr. Lester says I need to take
personal responsibility, so he gives me an exercise
where I have to write a letter of apology. Sends me
off by myself with a paper and pen. All I’ve
managed to write so far is: Least you weren’t there
for most of it. Next time you know not to get caught,
my way of filling all this empty space.




The year of Tonia Montez: she of the goth-girl
wigs and black gowns and pink bedroom walls
covered with watercolor and charcoal
portraits. “This is one of him as James Dean.”
“This one is of him as Bill Clinton.” Another
was a study of his heart, red and green,
wound with razor wire, sprouting daisies.
“Daisies may be weeds,” she said. “But even
they need soil to grow. That’s why I love him.”
We’d listened to Smells Like Teen Spirit as she
rubbed away unexplained bruises with snow white
foundation. When her face was restored,
she’d recite from the Song of Songs by memory:
“I sat down under his shadow with great delight;
by night on my bed I sought him whom
my soul loveth.” Her every leaning whisper,
her lips of scarlet, plummeted me into love.
But it was Shawn Minkins she sung for.

The year of the City Hall Rapist, his vague
sketched portrait peering out from newspapers.
We gathered in the firelight of televisions
to learn of the wolf. In bottomless subways,
on horror movie streets, his animal breaths
lurked piss-stained stairwells, colonial
alleys, stalking crepuscular night for
a straggler to sever from the herd. As we
traveled buses, trolleys, and cars through
blighted neighborhoods, we expected
to see him grinning in jaundiced streetlight.

The year of Shawn Minkins:
he of the “Boyz II Men” voice, the mother
who worked mornings bagging for Acme
and nights waiting tables at Arimingo Diner.
His pops went crazy because of Vietnam,
showing up every few months then disappearing
again. You learned never to ask Shawn about him
because later he’d find reason to throw you
to the ground and punch until he drew blood.
He was always sorry after and offered to let you
hit him to make things even. I wasn’t with him
the night he walked into the Xpress Food Mart
on Frankford Avenue with a 9mm, demanding
what was in the safe. Mr. Peng behind the counter
(who knew us since we were small) refused.
That’s when Shawn pressed the muzzle
to Mr. Peng’s forehead and didn’t ask again.

The year of Missy Montero, the rapist waiting
patient as a monk until she emerged alone
from some dive to stagger on uneasy heels
into the darkness ahead. He left her unconscious
and half-naked on the sidewalk beneath the El
at deserted Front and Berks. Rain had been threatening
to the edge of daybreak, but passed. The sun shone
dank Berks Street dim when morning broke.
She moaned inaudibly in her unnatural sleep.
Somewhere inside she was bleeding and this slowed
her heart until it stopped. Eventually, the rapist
went away like storms or locusts—never caught.

The year Tonia took the bus every Saturday
to Graterford Prison, to step behind its high hard
walls to talk with Shawn through cloudy
Plexiglas, his boy’s face a new scar every week.
The first weeks he grunted his love, then he
only glared, finally telling her to get on
with her goddamn life. I watched as she pulled
the portraits from the walls and piled them
into the bathtub. She shared a bottle of Vodka
with me then poured the rest over the portraits.
Her hands were steady when she a lit the match.
The tiled room filled with flashing embers
that floated up until they dimmed into miniscule
shards of ash. She wasn’t crying (she never cried)
but held my hand as she watched. She would
graduate at the top of her class and be accepted
on scholarship at Penn. Instead, she packed
her life and left. Five months later,
I received a signed postcard telling of yellow Spain
and the dust filling the streets of Grenada. The boy
she found who never raised his fists or voice. It was
the year of fleeing—the year of being left behind.

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