A Short Memoir of Prose Poems
Jimmy’s dad looked like an empty mailbox on a cloudy day.
He wore gray overalls and carried a red bandana
in his hip pocket that hung straight down like a windless flag.
He wore stiff black shoes and carried a metal lunch pail.
“James” sat over his shirt pocket announcing his name to the world.
Little strands of black thread unraveled from it like a spider.
On the way home from school we’d see him sitting
beside the pumps on an empty RC crate
cleaning his fingernails with a pocket knife
or over in the bay working under a car
with only his legs sticking out.
One day a Buick slipped off its jack and crushed him.
That’s when Jimmy stopped coming to school.
Our basement smelled like damp ashes when it rained.
I played down there in the summer by myself.
I'd pretend I was a prisoner and the basement was my cell.
The furnace was a firing squad.
I'd wrap the blindfold over my eyes, tie it tight, lean back
against the concrete wall, and stretch out my arms in a cross.
I liked the way the wall felt cold and damp against my back.
I'd shut my eyes, whisper a prayer, and wait.
Sometimes I'd stay quiet when Mom called.
August slipped in through the window
and slept heavy in my bed.
The sheets stuck to me like damp tape.
The table fan hummed a lullaby.
I turned my pillow over, propped it up,
and fell asleep reading Jack London.
Three children died beside the frozen lake today:
Charlie, Mick and me.
It was after Charlie caught a fish through the hole in the ice.
By the time Mick arrived the fish had lost its flops and was frozen.
So was Charlie.
Mick put the fish in his pocket, pulled Charlie by the collar
across the lake like a sled, propped him up against a tree
and sat down beside him.
Little puffs of smoke like cartoon character balloons
floated out of Mick's mouth with each sigh.
Finally his eyes closed and the puffs stopped.
I walked over to the tree, put the fish in my pocket,
knelt in the snow and kissed them both on the cheek.
Then I sat down beside them and didn't get up.
Two days before my birthday, my sister died.
They buried her in the Strayhorn Cemetery
under the oak that wore its Spanish moss like a tattered shawl.
It rained the night before and everything was sticky.
We all stood bent and wore gray clothes.
I stood behind Uncle Billy staring into the wool of his coat,
thinking about how Sis was going to miss my birthday.
His coat moved and I heard someone crying.
Everyone’s shoes were covered in mud.
When we got back home,
my cake was waiting in the middle of the kitchen table.
People kept coming in and leaving all day.
I sat in the kitchen staring at my cake,
thinking how it would taste even though I wasn't hungry.
Riding to School
I sat in the car
watching the corn field
fan from my right eye.
With left eye shut,
I, the moving target,
The giant fan spun
like a wheel whose center weight
was the field’s unknown other side.
My father took me to school
because his father would not.
There was no way out.
the trigger of a man
In the backyard
of my father's house
a hen's warm neck
once filled my pale fist.
Her place on the stump
still wears my shadow
like a stain.
I was six
when they stuck me
inside the scrapbook
with a puppy in my lap.
Reopening it all now,
my hand touches
the truth of my father
who made me sit still
in that soft moment
when everything became
so neatly black and white.