“Let The Caged Beast Run Free: A Parable” by Austen Berj Brooks

As Austen persevered through total sobriety last year, he kept a journal of his development, his hopes, his dreams, his perceived self-growth. He had been through much in his short life, and as sobriety settled in, he was cautious, hopeful, honest and grateful for what he had, for his uniqueness, for his beautiful mind and “a bright future if I stay sober and keep growing.” He urged himself on even as he fought continuous cravings and depression.  This excerpt is taken from his entry on June 8, 2014, three months sober:

     “Controlled passion. Manage the fire. Let it spray when it’s appropriate.  I’ve been down for too long. I’ve risen to the surface now I’m going to reach for the sky.  Existence is going to be everything I thought it could be.  No regrets, learn from your mistakes.  Let the caged beast run free.  Every day, every situation is another chance to grow and shine.  Let your emotions out Austen.  Let them run wild.  Stop criticizing yourself.  Don’t dwell on what you had and lost, think about everything you’ve gained and everything you stand to gain if you stay on this positive road.  Life is a long journey.  The sun will rise and fall for years to come.  I don’t have to have it all figured out today or tomorrow or this year.  I can take my time.  I’m alive, things are happening, I’m sober, there is hope, I am strong and I know I can be an amazing person.  Just be patient and trust the universe. Just know yourself.

     White hot blade slides through my chest, cauterizing as it cuts, the design is at first unfamiliar but with patience a pattern emerges.  The sign of the beast.  The wounds heal instantly.  This one will not go down easy the Gods chuckle. A spear through the heart should put him down but there’s ice in his core and the spear shatters as fast as it was thrown.  The thunder and rain shake the ground as lightening strikes and puddles turn to rivers.  Demons chase him up and down the blood drenched streets.  So many wounded, so many dead, but he keeps running.  As he hits his stride, a full on sprint, everything shifts.  The clouds part, the rain stops, flowers bloom and trees turn every perceivable color.  Reds, yellows, oranges, purples, pinks, yellows.  The variety is jarring, but he’s smiling.  Laughter erupts accompanied by a soft, warm glow that emanates from the center of his being. His wounds are gone as if they never existed at all.  His run turns into a walk.  The skies smile upon this soldier who fought for his freedom.  The first test is complete, congratulations.  This boy is a man.  One day he will fly.”

Austen Berj Brooks, “Journey Through Sobriety,” June 8, 2014.


Photo of Austen that he posted on Facebook on September 15, 2014, taken by a friend in downtown Chicago.

“Being The Parent Of An Opiate Addict,” poems by Lee Warner Brooks

In the words of Lee Warner Brooks. Just published! This is a moving collection of poems from Austen Berj Brooks‘ dad, written in the days following Austen’s death. Pure raw love and emotion, beautifully written, evocative, in the center of a sad, searing reality. A tribute to both Lee Warner Brooks and to Austen Berj Brooks.

Being the Parent of an Opiate Addict: A Real-Time Poetic Response is a unique and timely contribution to the discussion of a growing crisis, as more and more…

“From The Thirteenth Floor Balcony”

In 2012, when Austen was a junior at Indiana University, I let him use an old Nikon D50 camera with a 28-200 mm lens. He took some photos in Bloomington, which I saw. After he died, I found the camera in his room in Evanston and discovered some photos I had not seen, ones he had taken in late May 2012 from our 13th floor condo balcony and others he had taken on a walk to the lake. Many of the scenes are ones I have photographed myself. I paired some of Austen’s shots from the balcony with excerpts from his “Journey Through Sobriety,” written on June 6, 2014, in which he describes the view from the balcony and his state of mind:

“How beautiful the world is… Moon in the sky, sun setting over the clouds, open water to my left, big metropolis in the distance. Here I am.  The green expanse of the trees spreads off into the distance as far as the eye can see, a lone church chapel sticks up in the distance.  Planes speed off to destinations far away, a train meanders through the urban expanse into the heart of the city and right back out of it.  Here I am.  Thirteenth floor balcony.

                                                                           * * * * * *
To find out that you are a wonderfully complex and ancient being expressing itself through the configuration of a human being. That’s what’s waiting for me.  It can be a lonely journey.  Most people shun the truth, they run from it.  They die on the way to the other side.  I am brave enough to make it.  Stay calm, stay focused, stay in the moment, breathe.  You don’t know what other people are thinking, their judgments are inconsequential.  I am what I am.  It’s not up to them.  It’s up to me and the universe.  * * *  I just want to go full bore into it.  Keep writing until my words become magic and take off.”  Austen Berj Brooks, June 6, 2014 (emphasis added).

The photos below were taken by Austen in May 2012 from our 13th floor balcony.  The first 3 photos provide a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. The last photo is a ‘selfie’ by Austen standing on the balcony looking into the window:




Photos taken by Austen Berj Brooks on May 27, 2012, from the thirteenth floor condo balcony.  © 2015 Suzanne Sahakian. 


“Mind Field” Rap Published Posthumously|InsideOut Literary Art’s new online literary journal.

MIND FIELD – Austen Berj Brooks

undr scr review aims to give young writers a voice internationally. In lieu of this ongoing mission, we are honored to have the opportunity to publish the work of Austen Berj Brooks,

By Austen Berj Brooks, November 2012

Life is a journey, yo, not a destination;
I’m anxious while I’m waiting to escape annihilation.
The basis of my trouble is distant and evasive;
It bubbles up and suffocates the bliss of my creation.
My history sticks with me and keeps me in the basement;
Defiantly I color it with my imagination.
A useful gift I’m usin’ it for radical creatin’;

My words of warning are a lesson;
All the answers lie within reflective introspection.

The present is a gift but the future’s still in question;
My heart’s about to quit and my journey’s with my essence.

I wanna make something that lasts that’s worth more than gold.
My mind is a mine field I have to patrol;
Scavenge eternal secrets between the blasts to unfold
my future and past together like they’ve been wove,
Like my hands are tied and tethered with one pressed on the stove.
I don’t have time to stand in line when I’m tryin’ to reach my goals;
Hindsight’s 20/20 it took 20 years to see they stole
innocence and happiness in quantities I do not know.
Accept my humble challenge, keep your balance, truth is what I show,
But only if you seek.
Cause some of us were born to see, while others never get a peek.
The one who gets caught in between is lost forever in his dreams.
I’m just saying what I’ve seen – drugs are fun but shame of fiends.
Throw a kid into a cell – does that help him to get clean?
I’ve got friends whose lives are damaged,
they were young, they couldn’t manage.
They grew up and found themselves
distant shells of former selves.

Looking deep into your eyes
still I’ll never truly find
what’s projected in your mind.
We connect with honest lies;
I’m in love with cloudy skies.
How do I fall for what I despise?

“In Rhymes”

From the beginning of time
to a million years in the future I find
my soul and my mind come together in rhymes
intertwined by these lines I so smoothly unwind
to the ears of the person with taste that’s like mine

Austen Berj Brooks, August 20, 2011


“At Lake Ontario,” photo taken by Austen, posted on Facebook on June 14, 2013.

Eight Months Out

It has been over eight months since Austen died. I find myself finally regaining some of my endurance for physical exercise like hiking, biking, doing 70 minutes of hot yoga in 105 degree heat. I have steadily progressed through various phases of grief, trying to find my way through emotions and memories that turn up whenever they like, when I’m not particularly in the mood for them, when I’d rather just take a nap. But sleep doesn’t always come easy, only when I am completely exhausted and spent.

Still, I have worked hard to maintain a positive outlook, thinking of myself as a bodhisattva warrior, charging into sadness and suffering rather than running away from them. Now I strive more for loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity and wish that for others, and I try to avoid being exposed to commotion, discordance, mean-spiritedness, demeaning remarks, judgmental behavior.  Over the years, I have been described as “irrationally optimistic” and “refreshingly irreverent [this by a more senior lawyer at my law firm when I was an associate],” which qualities may be helping me now.

The thing about grief is that it is constantly changing, day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment, so that one moment you may be feeling completely overwhelmed by your thoughts and emotions, but then you snap out of it. And you don’t need to dwell on it, you move on. This is the thing that is hardest to try and explain to others who haven’t experienced catastrophic grief. They may still be caught up in the unreasonableness of anyone, including themselves, ever losing a child, so when you run into them and you are eight months out and flourishing at that moment, they are months behind you and show visible emotion at seeing you. You then find yourself in the position of trying to soothe and comfort. Or worse, trying to explain to sorrowful eyes where you are at and what you are doing.

Yes, early on I did think that my situation ‘sucked’ and in private I yelled things like, “I hate this,” “I don’t want to go through this,” “I don’t have the strength to deal with this.” But, when I’m out in public, I usually feel pretty good (otherwise I wouldn’t be out), and am unlikely to say gloomy remarks about my situation. And, really, it would be better if the well-meaning people I run into refrained from those remarks as well. It doesn’t help.

Grief is a very individual process. I have my moments to be sure, but they are private and are necessary to my well-being. I don’t need to explain myself to anyone. In fact, when I have tried to do so, I have found that I instantly regret saying anything because my ideas from yesterday have already run their course and I am on to something else. And, if I say I’m doing well (at that moment) be supportive and happy for me. It doesn’t mean I’m finished grieving, it just means I’m moving forward, still continuing to appreciate the daily miracles of life, keeping the spirit of Austen alive, trying to live up to my full potential during this lifetime.

I return often to these words from a poem by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –


“Hummingbird Perching,” Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, October 2009. © 2015 Suzanne Sahakian.

“Staying In The Moment, But You Have To Dream Big”

As I read through Austen’s writings, I find nuggets of insight, hope and inspiration, a young man with a luminous mind and cosmic vision, teachings for everyday life.  From Austen’s Journey Through Sobriety last summer:

“This is the prime of my life.  I want to enjoy it.  I finally have momentum in a positive direction. I’ve been speaking about needing this for so long.  If I could just get a little momentum, if I could just get a few basic necessities set into place…. So, here I am, about four and a half months sober, with a lot of positivity flowing through my life.  I am not perfect, far from it, I make mistakes everyday, I get moody, I say the wrong thing, but each day I learn and get a little older and a little bit wiser.  I just want to be able to be in the moment, I’m always so preoccupied with getting to a point where I can start to live.  Like if I just had this or that then I would be able to start living. This kind of thinking causes me to miss out on the present that is right in front of me. I have to lift myself up and be the person I am capable of being. I can’t let the darkness and negativity in.  I have to carry myself like the man that I know I am. … I have to stay centered and grounded in my self. You have to dream big. You can never give up on trying to be a legend. Not just a good person or a great person, but a truly special, unique, amazing individual. If you don’t try to reach for the stars, you won’t be able to land on one of the planets.”  (Emphasis added.)

Austen Berj Brooks, July 13, 2014

This photo titled, “Reflecting,” was taken by Austen and posted on Instagram on June 15, 2014.



We Only Get One Shot At This: A Rap

Austen created this rap during his senior year at Indiana University. He posted it on YouTube in February 2013 and sent me the link to listen to. I remember calling him back and asking him to send me the words, which he texted to me. Because I got a new phone in 2014, I lost any texts I previously had, and I thought I had lost the words to this rap forever. But, in one of those mysterious moments, the text from 2013 seems to have shown up on my iPhone at the bottom of my messages screen. Voilá! Just like that. So, here is the original music version, followed by the words.

We Only Get One Shot At This: A Rap

we only get one shot at this
I thought of this
reflecting on my only wish
to be myself and follow bliss
I see the end of all this shit

my suffering is yours and yours is mine
I’m confined to a mind that’s got 2 times the rhymes
but two times the problems
and I’ma leave you looking foolish if you ever doubt em
count em, got issues in the thousands

these tissues I ran out em
but I possess a spirit that they’ll never have
I asked why then but now I understand
oceans and land
open doors at my command
all white sand
all blue sky
I spit what i been through and it gets me high
addicted to anything that money could buy
constricted but love has the answers to why
and what and who
the fake shits through
deep in my mind i knew
this youngins overdue
not even 22
sick flow I microbrew
wrote these poems for the down but not out we cool

dream dream dream dream

and that’s me
I’m straight to the point
it’s cool you can skip me I’m straight on that joint
Michigan king they about to anoint
wars just a pawn move for chasing that coin-fucking chess
for that chest
we got problems at home
humble young but the best so I sit on the throne
spit my heart and my soul till the day that I’m gone
I’m my own harshest critic and I proved myself wrong
killed the dark part of me it’s exhumed on this song
just a kid with a dream to be happy all along
music is my gateway to bubble up like a bong
for my brother and my sister and my dad and my mom
for my friends who still fighting who got caught up among
this damn hurricane
self-medicating pain war in our own brains
nothing you can say
to explain away what drives us insane

trying to find who to blame
but its all the same trying to survive today
but its ok
just come vibe with me

dream dream dream dream dream

fuck all the sentimentality
I design my reality
lucid when I’m asleep I’m jumping straight off the balcony
into the deep abyss of mythological bliss
intoxicating and swift
indoctrinated this wish
the first breath of oxygens so delicious
spirited curiosity
my faithful mistress

Austen Berj Brooks, February 26, 2013; beat by Austen’s brother, Lee Gaizak Brooks.