Poetry Friday: 'Locked Up: Pain And Resilience'

Nov 1, 2019

This week’s Poetry Friday segment takes inspiration from an art exhibit currently showing in Flagstaff called Locked Up: Pain and Resilience. The exhibit focuses on problems within the U.S. prison system, and the contributing artists have all done time at some point in their lives. One of the featured artists is the late Flagstaff musician and poet, Aaron Norris. He spent several years in prison for crimes related to drug addiction and mental illness, which he suffered from most of his life. He died last year from an accidental overdose. His mother, Sue Norris, is the project manager for Open Doors Art in Action Gallery, which curates the Locked Up exhibit. Today, she shares some of the poetry and music her son wrote while he was incarcerated.

Aaron Norris and his son, Ben, circa 2009.
Credit Sue Norris

SN: Our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders and people with mentally ill diagnoses. My son, my oldest son, had both and he ended up in prison for most of five years due to impulsive acts which were not anti-social, but were against the law.

It was a horrible experience for him and a horrible experience for me as his advocate. My son Aaron was a brilliant but troubled guy. He was a wonderfully talented musician and songwriter. So, whenever he would have an opportunity when he was incarcerated to get into a music room, he would take the stored up thoughts he had and put them to music.

The song ‘Homecoming’ was actually written when he was on parole. It expresses the difficulty people have with reentry. It is a life sentence once you’re a felon in this country. Some people are able to move beyond that and others aren’t. And if you have some mental illness issues – like depression – it makes it a lot harder to take hold and overcome those obstacles. So, this song really does express the loneliness and agony of losing contact with society and your family and how you feel when you come out.

You know, when I’m down, when I’m thinking about him, I’ll listen to his music. In a person’s voice comes out their heart. And as much of a train wreck as that kid was, he had a wonderful heart.

‘Homecoming’, by Aaron Norris

Well, I’ll return to this town

In the body of a stranger.

Like Ulysses coming home in rags.

Just like the orphan in a manger.

Aaron Norria with his son Ben, also a musician, circa 2017.
Credit Sue Norris

Oh, and everyone I used to know

Won’t recognize me, not anymore.

Cast out of our Eden,

And made to beg outside your door.

Oh, when I return to this town,

Christ, I will return again.

A ghost in beggar’s clothing.

You’ll feel me coming on the wind.

In The Hole, Death blooms a rose,

And it’s the color of coal.

And like the cold wind,

It burns my skin tonight.

It’s like the fire

That burns out both our lights. 

Yeah, my journey was the inward one.

Hell, I did not sail the Seven Seas.

Like brave Ulysses, trapped here,

In a prison cell,

Oh God! I fell down on my knees.

And I still battle demons there.

Those monsters day and night-long.

Now all that’s left is memory,

And Lord, all I got is this song.

Oh, but I’ll return to this town

If just to claim what’s mine again.

A pale and ghostly rider,

His shadow stretched across the sand.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.