--I'M STILL CLAWING THROUGH THE MUD
No one has arrived yet but Dad is already drunk, standing on the deck with a pellet gun aimed at a horde of geese which have swam across the lake to feast on our lawn, yes shitting all over it, too, as they pluck and stab at the grass ignorant or defiant of a dangerous onlooker. Mom shouts for him to put that thing down, says neighbors will call the cops again and this time my dad will be tossed in jail, but Dad’s on a mission, fixated with an enemy who can’t fight back, who will only squawk and honk even as the pellets wiz by their heads and webbed feet. “Stupid mangy fucking things,” Dad says, cocking and firing the rifle. I hear him chuckle when he finally hits one of the birds, taking aim at another.
People tell me I look like him, an exact replica, and I don’t like it. They say I’m just as moody, and I don’t like that either.
I feel the urge to push him off the deck, over the railing. I see myself doing it, watching him plunge headlong twenty feet below. That would alter things, but it’s also something he would do. Instead I go inside and phone the police, tell them there’s a deranged man trying to kill defenseless geese, a man with a gun. Then I grab the gin bottle, take a long pull, walk out the front door, thinking about what was, what wasn’t, what might be.
For special occasions we ate
white rice slathered with whip cream and random pineapple chunks.
Before that was German food,
hamburger baked inside dough,
fried dough and potatoes
or chunks of fried dough bubbled-up as big as hubcaps.
Dads hands were large, too,
the biggest I’d ever seen,
knuckles usually cracked and bleeding,
grease faded between the whorls of his skin,
a hard day at the shop behind him,
his mood darker than the belly of a raincloud,
all of us seated at the table,
quiet mice chewing,
stealing glances at Mom,
wondering what she was thinking,
how she would react if there was another blowup again,
me reaching for the plastic bowl with my trembling elbows,
spooning a hill of Glorified Rice onto my plate
while my father watched me with eyes
I did not recognize
but still recall to this day.
When we were young we were always stealing,
perhaps because we knew instinctively that our youth
was being stolen from us,
bit by bit,
day by day,
in a home where the light never made it through.
We started with penny candy,
then squirt guns, gloves and athletic socks,
mostly practical things,
some essential to adolescence
and others to well-being.
By the time we fled our house
and the jackals
we’d become expert thieves,
really wonderful liars.
We smiled and told people how happy we were
while picking their pockets.
The problem is you can’t go back
what muscle memory has sewn into you.
At least that’s what I tell myself
alone at night,
laying on a bunk
in a ten-by-ten cell,
listening to the faucet drip
and drip and drip.
Today I put down the guns I’d been squeezing
and read poetry,
words with music in them,
love songs and sad ballads,
poems about the importance of being still,
of listening and paying attention
to the mystical way the world wants to teach you about glory,
After I’d finished
it was as if I’d come out of a coma
or just a heady rainstorm.
I was light and felt clean,
revenge no longer anything I coveted.
You might even say that words had converted me,
that such a simple thing as poetry
had made me born again.
Rivers and Roads
I am going back to the river
where my brother and I drowned,
having for once felt unthreatened on a raft under
the broiling July sun.
We fell asleep like mongrel dogs by the fireplace
and when we woke the current
was a fast plane taking us with it
no matter how hard we paddled,
falling yards and yards behind at a good clip,
and I remember thinking,
Yes, we are going to die,
out here on a rabid river that wants us dead,
and I thought,
Freedom at last.
But a motorboat found us a few feet before the falls,
tossed a rope and drove us to the shore,
our parents there,
drunk out of their gourds,
but not so stoned that they’d let go of their fury.
I wade into the water now wearing only those memories.
I go out further and further.
I close my eyes and wait for the current’s fingers
to accept me.
This Way Not That
We had a tree fort once
where we’d escape to
and look at old Playboy magazines,
glossy women wearing see-through teddies
with nipples as big hockey pucks,
thatches that hid their prize,
my brother telling me once,
“I’m going to marry a gal like this when I’m older,”
while I laughed so hard I puked.
In our trailer below the tempest was starting,
sound of glass shattering,
the trailer shaking from a human earthquake,
screen door screeching and swinging off its hinges
as if trying to flee the madness
just as we had.
My brother ignored it,
just pulled out another magazine and told me to look,
“Look this way
Don’t be stupid.”
Survival Tips For A Son
Wear heavy clothing.
Avoid making eye-contact.
Don’t spill or trip or
even think about sassing.
Always eat everything on your plate,
the scalded soup in your bowl.
Never say, “I don’t know.”
When you’re in the car, only look out the window
but refrain from studying other people’s homes and yards
because that’s what normal homes and yards and families look like.
Go ahead and create imaginary friends,
lots of them.
Lie to your schoolmates about your birthday and Christmas
and what Thanksgiving is like.
Try very hard not to think you’re crazy,
that life is hell and you’d just like to die and be done with it.
pretend you’re as big as bear,
that you have sharp fang and claws
and that someday when you’re older
you’ll use them.
Why Stories Are Important For Some People
Crimes in a southern towns are outdone by
northern felonies featuring
the ones who should love you the most.
So you wear armor to bed and remind yourself
that dreams don’t do damage,
that the air often cooperates,
night comes eventually,
and as it does
you stitch stories together,
sharing them with your brother in the bunk below.
He calls you a fool, says, “You don’t know. You don’t know.
You don’t know.”
The madness has crept into him already
and maybe inside you as well,
but you keep making up stories,
plots with escape plans,
magic carpets and genies who grant wishes,
you knowing that without imagination,
there’s no a chance in hell
you’ll ever make it through this.
The cops come around near midnight,
lights flashing like a carnival outside,
neighbors there watching, waiting, hoping for a good show again.
Mom hides in the bathroom.
Dad leans on the door jamb wearing boxers and a ribbed tank top.
Steam lifts off the back of his sweaty neck,
swept away by the crisp fall air.
It’s, “Step outside.”
It’s, “You got a warrant?”
It’s, “You’re really screwed this time.”
It’s, “Fuck you.”
It’s, “You’re under arrest.”
It’s, “Shove it up your ass.
After they’ve hauled him off,
mom calls us to the kitchen table
and I think she’s going to tell us we’re free now,
but instead all she wants to know is
which one of us called the police.
Slaying The Beasts
My wife would like to know my secrets.
“Even if they’re dark,” she says.
She holds my hand
and combs soft fingers through my hair,
but nothing is better or changed
and it’s not her fault whatsoever,
nor her mistake for wanting to learn about the scorpions
that root around inside my head
and can’t be killed.
When I tell her we should watch a movie
she throws her hands up
and takes off for the bedroom.
While she’s there,
I go to my office and find the keyboard,
slaying the beasts the only way I know how,
doing it with everything I’ve got.