Roscoe Burnems

watercolor pencil on archival paper, 2017
“Girl as Woman,” Kristin Ducharme, watercolor pencil on archival paper, 2017, @kristin_ducharme_artist


As a parent you prepare for the

day of school

But never the

time your kid hates life
when they want to take their own

she’s cracking jokes,
a desert smile, dry humor,
to evaporate the tears.
Later, on the chalkboard
we use for notes and affirmations
she scribbled
“Life is rough and sometimes I hate it.”
time I saw her crying in her room
because she hated herself and
didn’t really know why she wanted to die.
I saw myself in my daughter.
It was the sarcasm that could cut steel
it was watching her comedian her depression away.
This was the first moment I saw the worst of me in her.

I was her age the first

time I thought of suicide
time I attempted

No one tells you about these

time you feel like a failure as a parent.
time you don’t know what to say

I wanted to show her the burns on my chest.
When I tried to make ashes of my self esteem.
When I thought cuts turned a forearm into a map to freedom.
When I was nearly goaded by the voice
of Death (or whatever speaks to you in the lonely moments)
to do a trust fall from a bridge and let an 18 wheeler catch me.
but, I feared my tales would give her ideas.

thing I wanted to do was hold her.
Drape her in that cape that every parent wears;
a tattered hand-me-down.
But, she doesn’t want to be held

So we sat, in silence
a generation of depression between us
First 13 year old me, now 13 year old her

First thing I said was
Feels like damned if you leave and hell if you stay.
Sometimes the pain makes you appreciate the strength you have to push it away.
I found love in tomorrow when I chose today.
Life gives you another day to be a winner.
Suicide is the last day you get to be a quitter.
I’ve learned so much from the attempts that withered
before I did.

My first
born leaned in and called me a cry baby.
We laughed and talked about surviving.
She says I turn everything into a poem.
She ain’t lying

I still remember the
poem that kept me breathing.
I wrote it about her.


questions i ask while spiraling mid-depression

what is death, but the last mistake you get to make
what is a mistake, but a bad decision in an alternate reality you regret in the now what is now?
what is reality, but perception
what is perception, but an ideology you have in this moment
what is a “moment”, but a “forever” you cant hold on to
what is holding except the inability to let go
what is go
what is stop
what is time but the way to calculate how close you are to death

what is death,
but a mistake you can’t take back and can’t live to regret
what is regret, but the act of never letting go
what is “letting go”, but the inability to hold on to someone
what is “holding on” but trying to keep a moment from slipping through your teeth
what is slipping, but the act before falling in love
what is a fall into love and why do we want it?
what is love but an impact in a hole we hope to find
what is hope, but a maybe
what is maybe but a “guarantee” that changed its mind
what is the mind, but its own business
a busy mess of brain cells in a rat race
congested as a manhattan dusk
full of a million questions and never stopping to ask anyone for direction

or just never stop asking

who would listen anyway? without reason? without gain?
without it being a homeless tweet through a scrolling highway
where the social media makes one feel like a deserted desert
where you scream how you feel and people react but don’t respond
or respond but don’t care or care enough to be contrary but not compassionate.
what is gain but a hoarder of emotional debris
what is emotion but garden of fruit you either eat or share
hopefully in a safe space?
what (the fuck) is a safe space? but exclusivity in an inclusive world?
what is inclusive but a way to say everyone is the same,
and not the same too
but those same people need a safe space to be around other same people
and away from the other people who are kind of the same but not as much
… in the same room
what is same but an observation based upon your perception
what is perception but a moment
what is a forever but a bunch of moments stitched together

and i think i overthink sometimes
and the more i ask the less i know about being human

and this is how i found god
or death
or love
or all
or none
based on the moment i’m in
but what is “in”?
intact means i’m together
interrupted means i’m apart
interrogated means i’m broken down
intelligence means i’m building myself up

what is “my” but possession
when nothing belongs to us
because belong is a guarantee
what’s a “guarantee” but a sure thing in an unsure world or an unsure maybe with too much fear to speak
what is fear but the mind telling you
“i know danger when i see it”
what is danger but an opportunity to live or experience death

what is death?
but life, after you have done…. all this dying


On Social Media They Said Let’s Play a Game

“Introduce yourself as the thing that almost killed you”

Hi my name is: A Car
Running Into Me As I Was Crossing The Street
Drive By, “Duck! They Shootin’!”
Driving My Own Car Off The Road After I Fell Asleep
Driving My Car Off The Road… On Purpose
My name is: Lacking Purpose And Watching Cars Drive
By While I Sit On A Bridge
Ready To Jump, Wonderin’ Which           Car
Would Impale Me Like A Knife
My name is: Knife
Knife To My Gut During A Fight
Knife To My Neck During An Argument With An Ex
Knife To My Own Wrist
Hi my name is: Suicide
13 Pills In A Medicine Cabinet
[or] Gasoline, Lighter, And Gumption Junior

If I named myself after every time I tried to marry Death
I’d have a lot of hyphens
But my middle name would be But Funny Story
And my first name is: I’m Still Alive

Here’s a better game
Name yourself after all the reasons you are still alive

Hi my name is: Wife And Kids
My name is: If My Mother Can Beat Coma, Cancer, And Heart Disease
And Still Find A Reason To Smile,
Then I Can Get My Sad Ass Out Of Bed
My name is: I Tell My Students Choose Life and I Can’t be a Hypocrite
My name is: I Still Have Something To Say
My Voice Is A Victory Song
No, The Pain Did Not Make Me Stronger
It Showed me How Strong I Was Already
Nights May Be Lonely But The Sun Will Kiss Me Good Morning
My name is: Yesterday Is A Memory
My name is: God Ain’t Done With Me
Even On Days When I Don’t Believe In God


Therapy | \ˈther-ə-pē \ noun

  1. treatment intended to relieve re-live or heal a disorder.
  2. time travel to worst parts of yourself to kill your insomnia
  3. butterfly effect where you step on everything
  4. realizing multiple realities are real and you get to decide if you want to live in the one that has all your trauma
  5. a thanos snap and you pick the parts that die
  6. the shriek when you realize you are an onion and an ogre
  7. a core: apple or earth, but you don’t know if what’s waiting for you is lava or seeds, but something new is bound to grow out of it. maybe you will be a tree, or
  8. an island.


Author’s Note

Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed writing them. The process for a lot of these were therapeutic for me and are centered around mental health, introspection, and dissections of the human experience as it pertains to mortality and faith.

Douglas Powell / Roscoe Burnems is a Richmond, Virginia native. He is a spoken-word artist, educator, and Richmond’s first poet laureate. Roscoe has dedicated his career to using poetry as a therapeutic process and showing others how to do the same. His one-hour poetry and comedy special Traumedy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime: