Who is this husk with smoke still rising,
this old scarecrow with ankles tapered
like a whittled twig? Wasn’t he once
a story-teller, a soft-singer, a father?
He tells us to clean out the trailer
but there is nothing we want.
The ridges of his toothless gums flash
like red flags, his tongue hefty and bright
as a slap. A mouth of coal.
My sister and I want the old days,
when his whiskey was a soothing amber
and his smoke was misty
visions. When he taught us to swear
and sat us in the cab of a CAT and showed us
how to push the earth out of our way.
What he wants, besides the gun
that has been hidden, is to eat.
Though he can barely swallow,
he says he’ll drink anti-freeze
if he has to. A red line of a scar blazes
across his neck, ear to ear.
Smoke would curl from his grave,
but he wants to burn, flare like the wild
and wither to ash. He’ll dust our feet
and we’ll try to remember the man
who sat us on his lap when we were small
and taught us to steer down Chena Pump Road,
the long straight road fast ahead of us
wanting faster and faster.
The Summer I Read Anne Sexton and Audre Lorde
And one night he hustled around his kitchen
making me fried potatoes with Johnny’s seasoning,
kissing me as I stood in only a large t-shirt, my legs
smooth and brown because it was the apex of summer.
I was seventeen, I was ablaze. The potatoes sizzled
in the olive smell of hot oil, he held a spatula in one hand
and pulled me in with the other, placing his lips on my neck.
I breathed his heat, our sex between us like impatient puppies.
He said he would never love anyone. I was loving women
we didn’t read about in school. I was learning that beautiful,
animal groan. I still can’t smell fried potatoes and not think
of his sweet hazel eyes searching me in the dark of his bedroom,
his ugly plaid comforter too hot and his fingers tracing my jawline
down to my neck hollow as if my biography was already written
and anything after not worth mentioning.