Terry: 1950 – 1970
You were the shy, gentle boy, the classmate dealt
a low-bid hand: speech impediment twisting thin lips,
a heart rheumatic-fevered somewhere along the sandy road
that ran from 1950 to your family’s place southwest of town,
the high-knolled, wind-eared farmhouse where your mother
stayed up nights to hold you warm.
January blazed clear and cold the day we came out
for your seventh birthday. We ate cake, drank milk
and played games, then followed your father outside,
where he lent us each a .22 and strung us along frozen
roads to hunt—the instinct that had passed you over,
nothing more sideways to your grain than killing.
But the rest of us, your wild-haired brothers too, stalked
tight, something tugging our breath, something to prove.
You must have flinched when Keith Halsey whirled,
fired into the snow-filled ditch and pulled from icy weeds
a rabbit, blood dripping from its shattered head, crimson
drops dotting the sea of white over which our small bodies
bobbed and trailed. If some fate-tracker had followed
us then, read our snow-prints and called out names in order
of deaths-to-be, we wouldn’t have been surprised to hear
yours first. For you were the marked one, the quiet kid
who in his teens picked fruit out at Murphy’s Orchard
with an eye for the unblemished, a caution of numbers,
a need to get things right while you still could. The rest
of us squandered our time, threw rotten apples at each other
all day, though never at you. For you were apart
with the sweet brittle of your ribbing frame, the shadowing
half-ghost that crept along your smile, the ‘56 Buick
convertible you saved up for and painted sky blue, top
cranked down for the Alva girl people said you loved.
And when I heard your heart had quit on you, I already knew.
For you were the soft spirit who rounded our edges,
the boy we never once teased, our well of early conscience,
frail timepiece of flesh hauled back to Kansas and buried
over in Barber County—down on the Oklahoma line,
down in the red gypsum dirt, so deep and yet so near.
Finalist, Knightville Poetry Contest, 2017
Published in The New Guard Literary Review, Vol. VII, 2018