Joseph Green didn’t try alcohol until his second semester in college at the age of 19. But once he started drinking, he couldn’t stop. The son of an alcoholic, Joseph went from drinking socially to drinking all the time, smoking marijuana, and using cocaine.
Despite his struggles with substance abuse, he enjoyed a successful career as a poet, and even toured the country at only 26. He also worked as a bartender, which worsened his alcohol misuse. By 28, he had hit rock bottom. Desperate to get his life back, Joseph reached out to his father who, at that point, was 15 years sober.
With the support of his family and friends, he achieved recovery. And with a year of sobriety under his belt, he began working with underserved youth, spreading messages of acceptance, resilience, and positivity. But then, Joseph’s world came to a halt. He received a phone call informing him a close friend had died by suicide from an overdose.
Filled with anger and pain, he had two choices ⎼ head to the bar, or face his emotions. Determined to embody the example he had set out to be, he poured his feelings onto paper and wrote “Talk Ugly”.
The last time I saw you alive, I wish I would have talked ugly to you.
Said, put the straw down.
No, I don’t want to take another line,
I should be writing them.
My friend, you are a composer of music and magic.
Instruct your limbs to serve a purpose greater than self-indulgence.
Do not be fooled into thinking your pain has sharper teeth than anyone else’s.
I had a chance, but said nothing because I was high.
This is how I got started.
A bottle of Jack and a mirror.
Memories and scissors,
dreams drenched in ether sliced by razors,
potential rolled like $20 bills numbing the feeling on the tip of my tongue,
that I or this tongue should be serving a greater purpose.
In a last-ditch attempt at self-assessment,
I decided to look at my life through the eyes of loved ones,
for they see everything especially the ugly.
From years of drug use, from lying with to lying to angels,
friends I had forsaken, taking so much more than I had given.
I streamlined self-centeredness into a science
but there was righteousness there,
a willingness to craft these ills
through alchemy and poetry into a seer stone.
But honestly how can I speak ugly to you
when I was yet to speak it to myself.
In these nightmares of hindsight there is no poetry,
No alliterations to soften the blow,
Some realities have no simile; truth is like truth.
How could I form my lips to call your suicide a tragedy,
when I left you alone in that room kept company by narcotics
and the thousand ghosts draped in your disappointments.
I can only imagine all the voices you heard,
all but mine.
Smear makeup onto disgust if you must,
trust, the truth is seldom pretty but she is always beautiful.
It is in times like these, that I need you to please talk ugly to me.
My pain needs it.
Too many times we caress sadness when it needs to be shaken
torn from its place of comfort,
forced to grow wings to survive or die.
Don’t just tell me I can grow up and be whatever I want,
tell me that whatever I want better be something I’m willing to achieve,
that dreams will dissipate under the weight of addiction
and that there is a distinct difference between living like a rockstar
and actually being one.
Sometimes no matter how many poems you’ve written –
you’re just a cokehead and a poser.
Fear not, we are all divinely flawed individuals –
There’s no point hiding behind pretty lies.
We are the sum of the hideous scars
that hold together the remainder of our pretty pieces.
The last time I saw you alive
I wish I would have talked ugly to you.
It would have been the most beautiful thing –
I never said.
Joseph Green is a professional spoken word artist, educator, motivational speaker, writer, and person in long-term recovery. He dedicates his life to breaking down the barriers surrounding addiction and recovery, and providing safe spaces for youth to speak their truths. To learn more about him and his work, visit LMS Voice.