Terry:  1950 – 1970
 

You were the shy, gentle boy—the classmate

dealt a low-bid hand: speech impediment twisting

thin lips, a heart inflamed, rheumatic-fevered

somewhere on your family's sandy ground southwest

of town, that wind-eared knoll where your mother

stayed up nights to hold you, keep 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.
 

The rest of us stalked, your wild-haired brothers too,

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, 

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 picked fruit out at Murphy’s Orchard

with an eye for the unblemished, a caution of numbers,

 

a need to get things right. The rest of us squandered

our time, threw rotten apples at each other, though never

at you. For you were apart with your sweet brittle,

the shadow 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 spirit who rounded our edges,
our well of early conscience, the boy we never once teased
hauled back to Kansas and buried over in Barber County—

down on the Oklahoma line, in the red gypsum dirt. 
                                           

 

 

Finalist, Knightville Poetry Contest, 2017

Published in The New Guard Literary Review, Vol. VII, 2018

© 2021 by Justin Hunt, text and photos