Something covered his face,
a flash of green, of something grotesque—
something cartoon bright and monstrous,
like a grinning snake
or sharp-chinned goblin.
The screen door’s springs screeched, rusty.
The hard slam sang out a full acre,
calling rise to the cricket
and frog songs
from the marshland nearby.
Fresh windrows were long, thin slashes
between the house and the thicket line,
and the land looked
as if it’d been raked hard
by a set of ragged claws,
even in the gloaming.
Lightning pulsed in arteries,
flashed crooked across the sky,
the sickly white on the figures
where they stood among the trees,
where the glowed, softly,
in the growing darkness
so that he stumbled, fell looking up
to see them, again, so near.
His knees marred into the dew-damp
soil—bones on cloth, popping popping,
too young to be popping,
he was cast down like the cards
he wouldn’t touch.
He didn’t seem afraid of them,
though he should’ve been.
Someday, they’d slice away his soft edges
to get inside him. Someday,
they’d burn him out like a cross
planted in the copper-red ground.
They said his daddy drew lightning,
that the man drew strikes like flies,
honey, they said, like honey, and grinned,
and that he was hit ten times by twenty,
dead by twenty-five—
so he’d better watch out,
Boy, watch out. He just might
set himself alight.
They’d all laughed that time
before they yelled, Run. Go on. Git.
That memory set him running
under the storm, so he took the lead
they gave before,
though there was nowhere go.
Soaked-through, the thing
on his face caught rainwater,
sloshed about. When the hail fell,
it was the size of cherries
and the plastic shielded his face.
Red welts sprouted beside the dark marks
already there, clustered like grapes.
Through the field and back,
circling to the front,
he sought the way clear, the old man asleep,
the front door open, the stairway empty.
He sought the quiet of his room,
the dusty corners and torn pages,
the squeaking springs and cotton sheets,
the little dusty boxes filled with paper,
the scrawny cat both yowling and purring
from the bedside.
Someday, they’d try to set him on fire
to burn him out like a field full of muscadines,
take a scythe to his pride
and fill him back up the right way.
But he’d rip himself open
before that, lay his own bones,
like a goat’s shoulders,
across black silk cloth,
so they’d be too scared to touch.
But God was missing. And a big shadow
took his place, filled the doorway, back-lit
by porch light, and straightening, stiff,
so it was clear the moment the boy was seen.
He slowed a glance at the stones
beside the porch, could have picked one up
to swing, to shatter
the big stained teeth so the old man’d spit
soupy Chiclets in handfuls,
choke on his liquored blood
while the blackeyed specters
closed-in from behind.
He stepped onto the porch and whispered,
crimson and white—on the inside. Long letter I.
Why have such pretty, bright colors inside?
He sweated and smiled.
Blood and bone. The fist against his throat
cracked, his lips dropped
pink spit. Then red. Red.
The blood would feed the bugs,
grow the grass, so he bent
for a smooth stone
of his own, laughed and laughed.
If he used it
to beat the old man to death,
chipped-away at his skull
like peanut brittle,
pounded until there was nothing
but shell and wet, the red and the white
would seep slowly into the earth,
and the others might let him be.
If he killed him there
in front of the nowhere God
and everyone, and fed the hungry worms,
they might pat his back hard,
wink, and then call him a Man.