Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Whose Son Are You?

When you’re a boy,
Fists have too much power
But words hold fire that cannot be doused.
You don’t know prison—
Your one brother does—
But you suspect it might be like this,
Trapped inside a trailer,
Saturday night in August,
Forest fires just miles east
Eating up every dried sprig and root.
There’s a massive plume of cigarette smoke
Rubbing the ceiling raw,
Vapors searching for a seam to escape through
While below three of us and Mom play Trouble,
Her favorite game, because she always cheats and wins,
Punching the plastic dome like blind kids
So that the die skitters the way my teeth do when
I hit six for the fourth time and Mom
Asks, through a dragon tail of smoke,
“Jesus H. Christ, whose son are you anyway?”


A Room Full of Elephants

No one’s talking about the elephant
We’re good mannequins who
Chew with our mouths closed
I chew ice instead, silently
Because I’ve been scolded for it
A palm full of cubes tucked
Under the dinner table
Sis doesn’t squiggle in her chair
The way she usually does
And she’s not wearing any new bruises
My brother swallows a limb
Of scalloped potato thick with mottled cheese
Grinning at his plate as if it’s a comic strip
As if he’s been spared the belt as well
When he hasn’t, not at all
I dip my head down and mouth a new cube
To crush and shatter but Sis turns on me
Nearly shouting, “Len’s chewing ice again!”
I don’t know what’s worse
The shock of betrayal
Or the jolt of instant fear
But I piss myself nonetheless
As all go quiet and together we listen
To the patter of drops hitting the floor


But I Like You:  Zirconia Tears

I watched because
I didn’t know
What else I should do
Or maybe because
I didn’t know what
I didn’t know
Most often she
Stood by the broiling stove
A Beauty Queen hunched
For once under a urgent burden
Stirring a wood ladle
A red and white paisley
Scarf tied in her hair
Like a Gypsy chef
Trying surreptitiously to impress
Whoever might be watching
Sweat beading down her jaw
Sweat dripping off her earlobes
Like fake diamonds
Loud Zirconia tears
Steam clouding the
Rim of a kettle
Where dough boiled below
Like sinners dropped
Into the bowels of a ripe
And rippling red hell
“Why don’t you go
Play like your brothers?
Just go somewhere,” she said
But I simply sat and re-wrote
The first sixteen pages
Of the introduction
To Daniel Webster’s Dictionary
Practicing my penmanship
Carefully curving the
The swollen belly of every e
Never bothering to read
The words themselves
Until years later
When they made me laugh
And cry after that night
I’d found a rare volume
By chance at a used bookstore
Offering 70% off on all obsoletes
“You’re a little odd,” she said
Kicking in an after-laugh meant
To assuage my preening heart
“But I like you.”
That was the first or
Last time she relayed
Any kind of affection
What was important though
Was connecting
Evil stripped clean for once
Just she and me
Mother to son
Woman and boy
Having a conversation
About nothing at all
Just talking nonsense
As most normal families do



1 comment:

  1. Ripping my heart out. Such tough, brave work, Len. Inspires me to speak my own truth. Maybe.