“Johnny Muttner”, a poem of childhood cruelties…

Open Link Night is today, Thursday over at dversepoets.com.  It’s a great night to read poems that are all over the place…not demanded forms, etc.  My friend, Kanzan Sakura has pushed me to submit this poem below to OLN.  We will see how it flies….

Lady Nyo


backyard 6
This childhood boy has been on my mind for years.  Way before I became a poet.  I hope that Johnny is well and has a wonderful life.  We certainly did what we could to make him miserable.  Forgive us, Johnny.




Johnny Muttner


He would come down the school bus aisle,

An early morning scowl on his face

His right leg dragging

And we would advert our eyes or giggle.


No one knew for sure

What was wrong with Johnny

But an adult said

“Maybe a club foot”

And we went through our poor knowledge

Of the word club to figure this out.

Country club, caveman’s club, club soda

That was about the full of it.


Johnny was a farm boy,

And wore the rough overalls to school.

That, paired with the strange, heavy shoes

Was sure to isolate him from our mainstream.

And our ‘mainstream’ were other farm kids,

But without the limp.


Every so often, a boy would get caught in a bailer

And die or be maimed

So perhaps this was the fate of Johnny

But no one really knew

And no one had the courage to ask.


This was the time of polio

Of Iron Lungs

Of cripples and crutches

And non-motorized wheelchairs

So why did Johnny get treated

By us this way?

Because he was amongst us,

Our age, a farm boy like the rest of us.


Our fathers came home not long before

From War, with the embellishments of combat

Physical and psychological

But this was too close to home, our generation

And not our father’s.


The scowl on his face

And the fact that

No one on the school bus would make room

Meant he suffered the full blows

Of childhood brutality.

Who knows what he suffered at home.


There is a time, in childhood

When children are compassionate

When they surround with concern

A child thrown off a swing, or with skinned knees

Or a cast on an arm that we all clamber to sign,

But at a set stage, all this changes; we become brutes

Like many of the rural parents we saw and knew

Our own parents who would shoot a stray dog

Or cut the throat of a lamb

And don’t ask what they did to cats.


So we became imitation adults

The worse of us

And Johnny suffered our transformations

From childhood to an early mean adulthood.


It wasn’t until high school

That Johnny changed and we girls

Noticed the change.

He became handsome, talkative

Almost a different boy, winsome

And he stood tall and no one

Noticed the limp anymore.

Perhaps he had learned to hide it.


60 years later I remember him,

He floats before my eyes

Of a time faded into nothingness

Mostly I remember the cruelties

That this lamb suffered

At the hands of children

Growing into life

And a mean, unavoidable destiny.

-Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

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37 Responses to ““Johnny Muttner”, a poem of childhood cruelties…”

  1. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    full of compassion


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Maureen! It’s funny what can haunt you after all these decades. I have wondered what happened to Johnny for years, and yesterday, it just came to the surface….you know, poetry is a way for us to make real those ghosts of the past. I think when we have suffered some of the same rotten behavior of other youth and adults, we can (when we are finally adults) look back and wonder why these things happen. I wish the very best for Johnny, and hope his life is filled with love as he deserves. Childhood is sometimes a cruel time. Thank you for reading, Maureen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    it is strange – when I was a child I always had the utmost compassion for old people. Now I am one of the elderly but don’t feel it, so still feel moved by the plight of some of them…


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Yes, it’s funny isn’t it? I am 69 , (old) but I have a mother (we have been estranged for 50 years) who is 97, and still full of venom. I guess it’s more a question of the person opposite you as to whether they really deserve compassion. I have found that many of the super elderly are rather nasty people that age doesn’t tenderize them at all. I think personalities are set early and they don’t change much. Thank you, Maureen, for reading and your comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    I don’t know about deserving, but I think the more miserable they are the more they need compassion. I hear what you say about your mother, and sometimes people are so toxic they need to be avoided for your own health…


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Maureen. It freaks people out when they hear that you and your mother have nothing to do with each other. It doesn’t seem normal. And in healthy family, it isn’t. But you can destroy yourself and everyone around you by attempting to maintain an unhealthy relationship. It took me decades to learn that lesson. And all the time that was spent mourning this was only one sided. When a person has a nasty personality disorder that they refuse to do anything about, and see other people as sacrifices to their lives….you have to take a clearer look at what you are mourning. I was able to have a mother relationship with two aunts, now dead, and that was wonderful. To be able to love and give to a mother substitute helps. Toxicity can kill people as much as it mains the poisoner.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    I understand because I have a sister who is the same, and all I can do is totally avoid her… I think the personality disorder is called narcissism… I am so glad you were able to have that relationship with your aunts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. kanzensakura Says:

    A great poem. A Great Poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Toni. I am thinking of running this (for the bulls) on OLN Thursday….if it IS OLN Thursday. Johnny has been in the back of my mind for a long time. Childhood memories and not the best kind. I don’t think I was one of those who were openly unkind to him, but I do remember the general rejection of him by kids on the bus. And I didn’t have the character or courage then to oppose this. Thank you, again….dear sweet friend.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Oh! Yes, it definitely is narcissism….an probably a pathological narcissism. It’s all on a spectrum, but when it’s a life time behavior and so destructive to other people…intentionally so, it’s pathological. And these people never change. It’s really all about power and control.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. kanzensakura Says:

    Haibun Monday = OLN for Thursday! I think we do as much by our passivity as the kids/people who are equally aggressive. I remember a girl, Terri Ezell – she was poor and for some reason, she was always terrorized by many of the kids. At some point I think she said fuck it and began to grow in spite of them, to prosper – she excelled in her school work, athletics – it was never enough. I learned about the passivity one day as I watched some of the football jocks grab her and push her between them for awhile. They got tired of their game and left. She began to cry which she didn’t let them see. I walked up to her and said, don’t let the bastards get to you. We became friends after that and I faced ridicule too. But I didn’t care.


  12. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    I have confronted my sister, but it did no good and she continues to abuse others. I am a Christian. Don’t judge Christ by his followers. Most of us are not perfect. ❤


  13. ladynyo Says:

    No, and it will continue to do no good. Narcissism , in the extreme, happens because the wiring is so twisted. It can’t be undone. And….these sort of people basically don’t have much of a conscience. They don’t care about the suffering of others through their abuse. I don’t consider them really human. They never seek therapy because they think that they are ‘above’ it. And if the narcissist is a doctor or a nurse, they feel that ‘they know better than anyone else….”. Look at Trump. I know people are trying to spin ‘good’ on him, but I can’t think of a more debased character…not that I was ever a supporter of Clinton. These people are extreme narcissists, but this seems to be a growing development in our society. Look at the cultural standards, where people with little talent, or none, are lauded to the sky. And our youth are most vulnerable to all of this others..

    Liked by 1 person

  14. ladynyo Says:

    Good for you, Toni. It takes guts to go against the tide, as so many don’t. Yesterday, on our local news….a 12 year old black girl was brutalized by classmates….all girls and no one did anything about the beating, except take out their cell phones and film it. Bastards. I have never seen such brutality as these ‘girls’. They truly were savages. That young girls and boys have to endure this to go to school??? Grammar school? I would rather be homeschooled as we did for our son after his palette was broken and teeth knocked out in kindergarten. Kindergarten!!!


  15. ladynyo Says:

    In my opinion, the very worst abuse is when a narcissist abuses a child. They have no escape. Adults can and will walk away….most of them. But children are the preferred prey of narcissists. And what is even worse is when the adults around do not a damn thing, but cluck their tongues. And the narcissist gets away with this behaviorl


  16. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    I sure hope you can throw away these bitter things that are burdening you. You’re only giving them the power to hurt you more. Blessings xx


  17. ladynyo Says:

    12 years of therapy helped, but the wounds go deep, Maureen. Especially from those whom you expect not to wound. I appreciate your comments, Maureen, but a study of the subject of narcissism would perhaps give you a different perspective. It’s not bitterness so much as the woundedness and the ignorance of the general public doesn’t help.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    Believe me, I know just about everything I need to know about narcissism… ❤


  19. ladynyo Says:

    Good for you. You knowledge will stand you in good ways in your future. The others of us will learn these lessons over and over, as we refine our experiences. Smile.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    at my age I don’t expect it to have to stand me in good stead for long 🙂


  21. ladynyo Says:

    You never know, Maureen. My mother is 97 and her gift keeps on giving. I lost my darling Aunt Jean in 2014…exactly 3 years ago today…and she was 102. The most loving and gracious woman one could ever meet. She wrote to me a letter…a long letter, every week for 15 years. that’s a lot of letters!

    I hope you live a long time, Maureen. Poets need to live a long time because we have vision and much to say. I like your poetry, sweetie. We need it.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Maureen Sudlow Says:

    Thanks so much for that – the women on my side of the family have all lived to good old ages so there’s hope… Your Aunt Jean sounds lovely, and my darling mother’s name was Jean as well. I still miss her so much. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  23. charliezero1.wordpress.com Says:

    The compassion I felt as a child stuck with me to treat every human being equally. Good or bad…people are people. Compassion is the heart of who we are. Excellent write. 🙂


  24. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Charlie. Excellent point as to who we should be. Thanks, Charlie.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. charliezero1.wordpress.com Says:

    Your welcome my friend. It’s always good to know who we as a human species. 🙂

    Hope to see you on my page. You’ll laugh hard.


  26. ladynyo Says:

    I’ll come by later, Charlie. Have to attend to dinner right now. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. charliezero1.wordpress.com Says:

    🙂 See you soon.


  28. Beverly Crawford Says:

    Wouldn’t it be great to know how his life turned out, and what childhood scars he carried with him! Great write.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. ladynyo Says:

    First, thank you Beverly, for caring enough to read and leave a comment. I’ll be over tormorrow. And YES….I would love to know this…how his life turned out. I think that is the reason I wrote this…subconsciously. The poor lamb…but we were all poor lambs back then. Child abuse was as ;prominent as today, but little was done then. Unless the child was killed. I’ve said a prayer for Johnny. I wish him well.


  30. kim881 Says:

    We had several children at our school who had polio, wore reinforced boot and calipers, and I was the only child in our class with glasses; boy did we suffer. At high school, I was friends with a girl who was born with a deformed hand. She was the friend who introduced me to Tolkien and was deft with a needle and thread – she made hobbits and elves out of various materials and we’d re-enact scenes from the books. However, other people refused to acknowledge this side of her – they only saw the hand. When we sat together in the school canteen, the rest of the seats on our table remained empty. The other children refused to eat with us because of her hand.
    I empathise with Johnny but then children only reflect what they have been taught and, you’re right, no one had the courage to ask and who knows what he suffered at home.
    I cheered when I read that stanza about high school, when Johnny changed


  31. ladynyo Says:

    THANK You, Kim. I know that rejection…I had ‘cooties’ according to the ‘in crowd’ in grammar school. LOL! No one would sit by me, either….and Lauren Hoephner made my life miserable. Her mother and mine didn’t get along. LOL! The sins of the…..
    Thank you for reading and thank you for cheering when Johnny became accepted in HS.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. kim881 Says:



  33. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Kim….for reading and UNDERSTANDing this poem. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Victoria C. Slotto Says:

    This makes me weep as I think of my own Johnny Muttners–a boy with horrible allergies so that he had to carry a box of tissues every where and a girl with some sort of nervous disorder. I hate that I went along with the crowd and it saddens me to think of what it may have done to them. I wrote a poem about such a person once, of course thinking of them. If I can find it, I’ll come back and add it here.


  35. Victoria C. Slotto Says:

    Found it in my “Trash or Edit” file:

    The Stockbroker and His Would-Be Friends

    Beside the water
    a child stands alone, afraid.
    The others splash him.

    Many years later
    from the sweeping waves of life
    he saves their assets.

    Now they accept him.


  36. ladynyo Says:

    A very interesting poem, Victoria….a turnaround.


  37. ladynyo Says:

    You did, Victoria, and I am glad you did. A painful memory that turns the tide. I think we all have done such things…it’s hard to swim against the tide when we are young.


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