Here, at the other end of your life
you hand me a faded photograph of a young boy
wearing a first new coat --
a third son’s shy smile peeks out
from beneath an older brother's discarded cap.
Here, too, is your own father not yet vanished
into a bottle of brandy, no sound of glass shattering
against the metal can outside your open window at midnight.
Here, in this picture, a favorite brother is not yet dead,
grief waits to be introduced; a war is yet to be fought,
a life to be lived. I am not yet here, either.
Here, washed in sepia, is the younger face of one
who never concedes to roots sprung from poverty,
or speaks ill of a mother who tithed to the Jesus of Catholicism
over the rumblings of her children's empty bellies.
Here, too, blow the bitter winters of Madison,
deep hunger leading you over ice-bound lanes to find work,
--never a pause to warm your hands at the fire,
no time to read of Odysseus, Hector, Eros, only a shadow
of that other, Pluto, of the dead. Here, alone,
this childhood that was yours.
For A Wounded Boy
Each evening an elephant bursts through the door to play hide and seek with the man who haunts this house. Boy pretends he's not here, never welcomes the brute, relies solely on silence, hopes that he'll disappear.
At cocktail hour, stinking piles dapple the den. Boy's mother shovels them up come morning. As she toils, she hides found objects: empty prescription bottles, glasses dregged with wine, bruises. She pulls shame from pockets, tosses it into the brackish air.
By ten, Boy has furnished a "no-big-deal" room he's built inside his head; a spot cleansed of whiskey, where elephants and men are punished for trampling family dinners, birthday parties, Christmas gifts.
At thirteen, wishes for one normal day consume Boy's hours. The elephant disappears each morning-after, but the man soon regroups, calls the beast back each night saying, come on in, only one, just one more, dear…
As he grows, Boy will learn to avoid thrusting tusks, flee from leathery skin and the dung-heap that's home-- And the truth? It's unspeakable. Never admit to the guilt, just stare through it with unfocused eyes.
At eighteen, thoughts will dare him to speed the next curve, leap unseeing from unexplored cliffs -- fall or fly. He'll have learned to shun joy with its dangerous touch and to puncture each smile with a cynical thrust.
As a man, Boy will think that he's not good enough, stuff his closets with needs that have never been met by the vague, undependable men of his world. And someday, when his life becomes too much to bear, he will open the door to the beast that lived here.
JP Reese has poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews and writer interviews published or forthcoming in many online and print journals. Reese is a poetry editor for THIS Literary Magazine, www.thiszine.org, and Associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, www.connotationpress.com. Reese's poetry chapbook, Final Notes will be available from Naked Mannekin Press in spring, 2012. Reese is an adjunct English professor. Some of her published work can be read at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty, jpreesetoo.wordpress.com.