Phlogiston - The Fire Within

What’s up guys,


I have been involved in music and spoken word poetry since I was 16 years old. I was first introduced to it in an English class when a teacher at my high school invited national poetry slam champion Regie Gibson to do a poetry seminar. My life opened up to a whole new world of self expression and healing. I had loved art and music for as long as I can remember, but the art of free verse… Inexplicably changed my perspective. That said, when a friend of mine sent me an Instagram post by @vocussed, an excerpt of his poem Phlogiston, I was immediately inspired to see if he would be willing to share his words here with all of you as well. Whether you have an appreciation for poetry or not, Rohan’s words are likely to resonate with you as a man or offer some insight if you’re someone trying to understand men better. At any rate, I’ll let Rohan speak for himself:


This is the paradoxical paradigm that’s imbued on a young man, that he should be strong and have strong comradery with other men, but never shy from the opportunity to fight them, while simultaneously being devious towards women for the recognition and acceptance of these dubious masculine groups. I found both prospects repulsive and the duality of them alienating. Essentially, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Naturally, this led to a very socially confusing childhood and adolescence.


I’ve always been torn between existing in the established masculine, the hardness, and the tenderness, the softness. The solution to this dilemma was simple: I would choose to be both. Of course, it’s never so simple, but goals always sound more simplified than the steps to that goal. But, like many other people, I’ve spent a lifetime questioning myself about which attributes are best to foster and which attributes to curb on the road to become my better self.


I grew up in a small rural area. Small towns and small-town mindsets. Being brought up in this environment can make it hard to see beyond the lens of the small-town fishbowl, and looking back now, it’s easy to relive the experience. I found, through years of life experience in this setting, that it helps you enormously and that it is ultimately necessary to look beyond your station, to be humbled by the possibilities of a larger, greater world. This goes doubly for the attitudes of the young boy and young man, that the microcosm of youth is not representative of who you are to the world, because, really – we’re all learning as we go.


This poem was written as a performative response to the lesser demons of my internal, toxic masculinity and as a call to my efforts and hopes for being a better man. The title, Phlogiston, refers to a substance that was thought in the 1800’s to exist in all combustible things, an almost magical element that held the potential for violent combustion. Of course, this theory was proven to be misguided and completely incorrect, but it didn’t stop fervent supporters of the Phlogiston theory from basing their theories of the physical (and chemical) world on the debunked theory. I chose this title because I believe so many men are misguided by a similar mistruth: that there is a violent fire inside of us that we must succumb to, to retain our masculinity, our manliness. The name Phlogiston comes from the Greek for “burning up” and I believe so many men in the world are burning up, not just from within, but burning up all that they surround themselves with.


I wrote this piece because I wanted to share my story so that others might see that there is more than one way to manage the proverbial fire in each of us, that fostering our flame, accepting and embracing changes and providing our warmth for others can heal us, intrinsically. We needn’t explode, we needn’t hurt ourselves or others to relieve and liberate this innate feeling of the turbulent, combustible self. There’s power in controlling and shaping the fire in ourselves, that we might turn from violence and towards passion and from anger towards compassion and understanding. There is more strength in the man behind a caring hand than there is with the man behind a fist.


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Phlogiston


When I first felt a fist to my face

the pain was ageless

(A boy at war)

His knuckles: a sword,

My teeth: an aegis.


I was told

"yeah, your chin's gonna harden

once the numbness sets in"


(told: to let that pain sink in,

told: male weakness is sin)


And I was told, and I was told, told

That heroic's in fashion,

stoic's in vogue -

But how was I to know better

when it's all a boy is ever sold?


I cashed in my youth like scrap metal,

baby-teeth for iron-ingots,

The freshly molded fool,

where fighting fueled the furnace,

forged me hot in numbness


Until my jaw became a fist too.


Never letting rawness set in, no -

no fretting over bloodletting

Because in this shallow sea of masculinity

the rising fire

would cauterise all wounds.


I cut my teeth on the anvil


until I cracked the crystalline in me,

Hardness shattered in spittle and sparks!

Sparks, sparks

that spat furies from the crucible

And where they fell

sat freckles

and for the first moment, in stillness

I saw my softness

and in my skin, it whispered:

“I forgive you"

I opened my eyes once as a child

and the rest is remembering.


I held the fire

and it burned in my hands,

but I curled it, nurtured it

and turned it into the warmth

that I needed as a man Then -


Through softened ears,

Nature sang to me. At first with birds

then on the TV

as screams of trees burnt

for furnaces:

Fuel for men like me

with iron in their blood

bloodlusting for earth's

warm flesh in their teeth.

When did we decide to look away from the fires?


How many hits did it take

to shift the make of our very fibre?


We crystallise in callouses,

cladding armours for that next fist,

love lost, life lost - All loss

Is hard.


But fight hardness with hardness, you get friction.

Friction’s a condition that positions us

to set our worlds alight.


But I beg you,

allow yourself the fear to feel and you’ll

see that our softness is a right.


So hold tight the fire in your skin.


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