Custom Skulls by Tyler Gobble

EDITOR’S NOTE: We published “Custom Skulls” on September 26, 2016 at 4:30am. Eight hours later, Quaint Magazine published Layne Ransom’s essay “I Should Not Have Had to Write This.” Ransom’s essay details Tyler’s physical, mental, and emotional abuse against her, but more to the point, her essay outlines his lack of remorse for the pain he caused her.

That lack would be reason enough to remove his poem from this site, as I have no interest in tacitly encouraging anyone who thinks it’s within their right or jurisdiction to manipulate another person into feeling that they deserve any sort of abuse—and I want to be clear in my assertion: publishing and promoting the work of any writer who takes part in abuse encourages that behavior, without question—but silent removal of the work is not enough. It’s not enough to shun or ignore a writer’s work, especially in a way that could be viewed as censorship. Removing Tyler’s work without acknowledging the reason—his history of abuse, which isn’t limited to Ransom—would make me complicit in allowing that abuse to continue.

So, instead, I’m leaving the work here. I hope Tyler’s readers find it. If you’re here to read his poem, I urge you to also read Ransom’s essay in full. And, if you need a reason beyond my insistence, this quote should be enough:

“Soon after starting my second fall semester, I felt myself collapsing. Although I had asked Tyler to get psychological help the day after he choked me, it was apparent that he was unbothered by what he had done. The only thing he did was get a blood test, as though the root of his violence would reveal itself in a test tube. I entered counseling, and the therapist, noting my extreme anxiety and depressiveness, urged me to take the first safe way out I saw. And though I recognized he was abusive, how much people seemed to love him and the fact of his acceptance to the Michener Center felt like confirmation of my deepest fear: that a man who exploited my love and endangered my life without repentance or regret was still worth more to the world than I would ever be.”

I know this addendum can’t reverse Ransom’s pain (or anyone’s), and it doesn’t entirely resolve the implicit encouragement Tyler gets via publication, but we need to have a real conversation about what can be done for those of us who have survived abuse or harassment at the hand of another writer, especially when it affects how we value ourselves as people and writers. If nothing else, I hope this note contributes to that conversation.

And to those who will try to say I’m using apt to promote a personal agenda—because I know you’re out there; abuse apologists are a dime a dozen—I say this: in the same way Tyler needs to be held accountable for his actions, I need to be held accountable for mine, as an editor. We’ve long said that apt is a venue for challenging writing. Publishing this addendum is my responsibility to that mission. And I challenge anyone who would suggest I do anything less.

Carissa Halston
Editor-in-Chief
apt

 

 

 

 

A woman whittling something
And I felt both terrified and delighted
Terrified like a squirrel in the middle of the highway
Delighted like a squirrel in the middle of the highway
I did not expect her to speak
As by this point I had lost all expectations
Not as if humanity had melted me
Like butter and through its fingers I went
But like I was tired
And my attention tuned to cultivating
My garden where I would grow an onion
Which no one had done in forty-seven years
She said Would you like a simple tutorial
I said Of course yes

Though no realization still flickered of what
She was whittling
She said Welcome to meticulous craftsmanship
Like a dolphin once smiled before diving
To fetch the fish slung into the depths
By a trainer who had no intention
To retrieve the fish if the dolphin refused
Which of course would never happen
As the dolphin’s two main goals in life
It had been determined—
To eat fish and to please/impress whatever
Eyes might be watching—and then she handed me a skull
Much like the one I had lost years previous
A loss resulting in this holographic head
She said I whittle all sorts of stuff out of these skulls
I asked Such as

She pointed first to an ashtray
Then to a lamp shade
Then she opened a door
I had not yet noticed and it was
A warehouse of repurposed skulls—
Knick knacks and small bowls
Some things have function and some things are just
Fun is what I scratched down in my notepad
She said Most creatures tend to lose their head
Once they die, especially if it is no longer attached 

If this happens she explained The skin will be preserved
I spotted a man in the back scrubbing specimens
She continued And we can’t have that
I chuckled confused like an eagle inside a building
Then I got it like the eagle hopped back into the sunshine—
For the cost of labor this woman would have turned
My head into a beautiful wine pitcher
I did not know what I had been
Missing this whole time

 

 

 

 

Tyler Gobble is currently a poetry fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. Alongside Jennifer Whalen, he hosts Everything Is Bigger, a reading series in Austin, TX. His first full-length collection, MORE WRECK MORE WRECK, is available from Coconut Books. He prefers disc golf, sleeveless shirts, porches, and bacon. More at tylergobble.com.



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