--ALL I WANT IS FOR YOU TO MAKE ME SMILE
We are busy taking photos,busy being still as totems,
our parents seated in the middle of their brood
like elderly hippie royalty
though we know better,
though we are each sharper than people give us credit.
Dressed in our Sunday Best,we resemble dime store mannequins
made from faulty plastic molds,
mom’s blonde wig a mass of hair-sprayed waves,
dad’s hair a flat matt of porcupine quills,
all of us something we’re not again.
The photographer is a fastidious ant man,telling us how to smile and stand,
which way to tilt our chins,
how the backlighting will create shadows
if we aren’t able to hold ourselves together.
Just last week one of us wasa runaway, a soldier and a felon,
a bad poet, two wrestlers, and four abused siblings
quaking in a shroud of defenseless skin.
But today our grins are fashioned with see-through plaster,our arms hung low like chimps so that no one
—not the photographer,
or those who will view this picture years later—
is able to see our hands,
some scarred, but all fisted tight.
It was a rare day of glory,Dad high on sunshine instead of Schlitz Malt Liquor,
so giddy for some reason that he
nearly skipped through the aisles at 2 Swabbies.
When he told me to pick something out for myself,
I believed it a trick and looked the shelves over
to see who might be watching,
waiting to bust a gut with laughter.
But he was serious. He meant it!Dad who never bought me anything but meals
because we were what people called White Trash
and because that’s all he could afford.
When I picked a pair of Levis off a stack asking, “Are these okay?”
he tousled my hair with his grease-stained bear paw,
checked the price tag, and said, “Sure thing, Flower Child.”
But the pair I’d chosen weren’t the right ones,weren’t Shrink-To-Fit, the style all the other kids wore.
These jeans stayed black-blue and stiff as shingles.
Wearing them at the bus stop the next day,
Dad drove by in his white Caddie,
cigarette smoke climbing the car windows
like dragon claws made of fog.
If he was looking my way or even knew if it was me,
I couldn’t tell.
When Steve Pittman asked,“Ain’t that your Dad?”
I stared at a rusted beer can blinking sunray code
in the pile of detritus behind us.
When he asked again, I stared some more
and breathed through my nose
until the bus pulled up and I got on,
taking the first empty seat available.
The Horse Whisperer
He never knew how muchhe scared me,
or maybe he did.
Perhaps that was the idea.
After he’d been released
my older brother went
around the table telling
each of my siblings
who would make something of themselves
or who would wind up on Welfare.
He said Welfare had my name on it,
then asked if I was a punk,
asked if I knew what a punk was.
In prison a punk is the guy everyone
rapes because they can,
because it is just that easy.
My brother is a different man now.He’s a genuine horse whisperer,
out in the middle of nowhere
with his wild mares and stallions,
using secret words to coax them.
I wonder what he says,
what parts they understand
and how much they obey,
Spin The Bottle
We played Truth or Dare,then Spin The Bottle to see
who would kiss who.
I kept getting Monica Westfall,
a chubby girl but kind of cute
with her white bell bottoms
and different colored pockets
that reminded me of a Twister matt.
After a while we retreated to the dank basement
which smelled like a root cellar.
I sat on the washer, her on the dryer,
both of us unsure how to get started.
Even in the shady darkness
I could see that she had the deepest
dimples I’d ever seen,
that, in her own way, she was quite beautiful.
When I said she was,
she applied cherry ChapStick
and told me I was too skinny but
she wasn’t all that picky.
We leaned between the seams of both machines
and kissed for hours, just kissing,
nothing more than that,
no bases covered,
the heat of those moments
a crimson brand against my skin.
The next day my brother
asked if I got some Nookie.
I didn’t know what that was exactly,
but I swung hard anyway.
It was the first blow I ever landed on him
and the last.
I didn’t mind the beating that ensued,
didn’t even ask him to stop.
It’s funny how the imprint of
someone else’s lips on yours can
erase all kinds of pain,
how it can make you feel
that you might actually have
something to offer another person,
even if it’s fleeting and only temporary.