Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I’ve always envisioned the six of them lurking
in the halls of the vacated school,
bored as hell, stinking of Marlboros,
spitting at walls, pissing against lockers,
at war with the whole damned galaxy—
then Higgins sees us on our Stingray bikes
cruising the corridors, weaving around poles,
and swears to his buddies, "I hate these motherfuckers” —
because we’re Austs, because we’re lucky,
because we haven’t a clue,
because our backyard fence boundaries
his grandmother's orchard
and we eat of the fruit of her trees
with her permission--not his.
Never his.

Those unpruned pregnant nectar-rich trees,
lush apricots dripping with gold
into the dusty high weeds of that gnarled orchard
too huge for her to manage
which Higgins prowls like a border guard
whenever he’s left with her
with Liberty Valance eyes
and a soggy peach in each clenched fist.

Of course we resist--my brothers against his—
heaving threats, insults, dirt clod grenades,
until that inevitable hurled stone
rebounds off our sliding glass door and
signals a clear declaration of war.

I hop the fence solo one dry afternoon
thinking the orchard all mine,
stumble to my knees, look up to find Higgins
glaring behind the star thistles.
I swear he intends to tear me in two
but stand my ground as he warily circles.
Then the wilderness pulls us down and we clutch
and roll in an awkward embrace,
biting the earth, pummeling nothing,
then abrubtly, dirt-caked with dusty nostrils,
stand and part our ways,
relieved to have wrestled Apollyon
for ten seconds and survived.

It’s Higgins sets us up the next spring
at the empty Junior High.
My six-year-old brother, sun speckled and small,
straddles his thick-tired bike
as I grope my filthy locker for a
history book misplaced.
Someone’s hand interferes, clutches the metal door.
 “What are you hiding in there?”
It’s Fredricks. I know him. A wounded raccoon.
I wonder how many grown men he’s defaced.

Six guys surround me. I pause to consider.
Higgins among them, smirking.
And then the spider bites
between the knuckles of my freckled right hand.
That’s Brinkley, gibbon-faced, alcoholic,
drilling his cigarette into soft smoking flesh.
 “Does that hurt?” he says with a clownish grin,
then clears his throat, spits three times in my hair.
I thrust my bike at him.
Surprised, he falls back. Remembering my brother,
I say,“Let’s leave these punks, Tim.”
And back away.
And they let us go. Laughing.

We speed ourselves home, not speaking at all
except to conspire, “Don’t tell Mom.”
Not a cloud in the sky that day, my right hand stinging,
the air full of lilacs and blossoms
and the pondering of my twelve-year-old mind:
how no greater indignity has yet been inflicted
in the history of mankind.

1 comment:

  1. Great poem, Ed. So vivid throughout. I found the pace of the narrative absolutely gripping.