Hacked By BALA SNIPER
Around the Bend
I need to figure out whether or not to go forward with the Redneck Press White Trash anthology coedited with Timothy Gager. I’m feeling increasingly guilty about asking my fellow writers for stories and poems without proper compensation. It’s one thing to publish online with no compensation for FCAC, another to do a print anthology. It just doesn’t feel right anymore. I need to figure these things out, so I’m posting this and inviting comments.
At the same time, I’m looking for an editor to take over the day-to-day publishing details at FCAC so I’m freed up for a new project. I’d prefer someone with deep rural and/or Appalachian roots to take over. The job is easy, but time-consuming, at least an hour a day most weeks. Any potential editor would need to be intimately familiar with WordPress and Submittable or ready to learn quickly, posting new content every three-four days all year long, and of course, reading submissions. I’m happy to host the site and continue to pay the bills, but it’s not a paying editorial gig. If you’re interested, mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t find anyone, I’ll shut FCAC down as regards new content and simply archive the site.
If you have ideas about any of this, please let me know here or via email. Thanks.
June 1st. My favorite time of the year. The flowers are in bloom and it seems that all is right with the world. I’m walking to church with a song in my heart only it’s not Sunday, that’s tomorrow. Saturday is when I go see Mama. Mama will love these lilies, she’ll love my dress too; it once belonged to her.
“Morning Mama. It’s so beautiful today up on this hill. I brought you some lilies I picked from the garden. You know the one you and me planted together two years ago. You made me promise to bring a batch to you every time they bloom good. So far these have been the prettiest ever. I suspect you’re wondering about beaus. I don’t have any, but I keep praying for one. There is this one man, Jesse, I am kinda sweet on. He’s got the voice of an angel. He sings…”
Down below in the church, I hear music and it was not my imagination. I kiss the cross guarding Mama. Preacher didn’t say there would be a concert today. Normally on a day like today, I would take the long way home pass the old diving bell and dip my toes in the river, but the music stirred me up, like God was calling me. I left my shoes on the hill and walked barefoot to the church. I opened the door and there was nobody except…
“You startled me.”
“I’m so sorry, I heard the music and it was like Jesus was calling me to come and listen.
Jesse smiled. His smile was so warm and inviting. Like a hug.
“Preacher sometimes lets me come in here and practice. Is your name Sarah?”
“You know my name?”
“I make it my business to know everyone in this church. You smell like lilies. You been up on the hill?”
“My mama’s up there.”
“I’m real sorry for that and this.”
Jesse pulls me down on the floor, real rough. My head hit the pew. He put his hand, both small and strong, on my neck. I thought for sure he would kill me. Jesus made me strong though. My head turned to scripture, but I couldn’t remember verses only stories. Jesse was lifting my dress and shedding my undergarments, and then… Mama taught me to be a lady, so I can’t tell you what he did. “Jesus this is my cross, help me look to You like You looked to God.” Then it was over. My body, limp from pain and bloody as he dragged me to the altar only to prop me up like a doll on display.
I was sitting on the choir bench humming a tune I made up in my mind. I look through the hymnal. Shame on me, I almost like the hymnal better than the bible. I hear the door open and close. Did God send another angel for me? No. It was my older brother Jacob; he can never escape that smell. I smiled. Jacob entered a church and the earth did not shake.
“I thought I’d find you here.” said Jacob.
“You smell like whiskey.”
“Hell, I always smell like whiskey. Even on Sundays when I sell the most bottles while you’re in here singing about lovin Jesus in that pretty white robe.”
“I ain’t got all day, so let’s go.”
“Go where, Jacob?”
“Home. You asked me to pick you up at the store, when I didn’t see you there I thought I’d try here.
“Do you know what I was thinking about today?”
“No. I broke my crystal ball Minerva from out on 53, gave me.”
“I was thinking about the time when you, Camp and me got drunk off of Uncle Mount’s white lightening.”
“That was a time.”
“You and Camp wrecked Daddy’s buggy and ruined Mama’s garden”
“That garden looked better ruined.”
“That’s because Mama had a black thumb.”
“What I remember Jesse, is you killing a litter of kittens while you were trying to save their souls. You cried so hard you made yourself sick.”
“The Lord’s work never goes unpunished.”
“Has the new preacher in town ever killed anybody in the river, on accident of course?”
“Preacher’s a good man.”
“Just checking. Thought there might be a club for men who drown their victims while baptizing them.”
“I only drowned the kittens and they don’t have any souls.”
“You drowned your mama, Jesse.”
“She refused to accept Christ, Jacob. I had to resort to desperate measures.”
“I ain’t baptized.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, you and Camp both. Where is Camp?”
“You mean Gehenna?”
“I mean he ain’t here, little brother.”
“I see blood on your hands.”
“I think what you see is dirt.”
“That’s a cruel way to go.”
“So is drowning.”
“You must accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior today, right now, with me as your witness.”
“If you deny Christ, you will burn in hell. Why?”
“Because it pisses you off. I also have no desire to spend eternity on a cloud playing a flute or a banjo with some blond angel. I’m counting on hell having a damn good assortment of whiskey. At least I know I’ll have a few drinking buddies there.”
“I pity you.”
“Not as much as I pity you.”
I slam the hymnal shut. I feel my blood boiling. Thoughts of mayhem and murder enter my mind.
“Who’s the cunt on the floor? The one I’ve been pretending not to notice.”
“Jesus sent her to me, sweet Jacob.”
“Why do you ask?”
“They always are. She’s got blood on her dress.”
“The last one didn’t bleed.”
“The last one had two little children missing their mama. What am I going to have to do with this little dove?”
“Nothing. She has no family”
“That don’t mean people ain’t gonna miss her.”
“She’s so pretty, all still like that.”
“I hope you realize what a fucking monster you are.”
“Jesus don’t like you swearing in his house.”
“But, it’s okay to rape a woman in church.”
“Jesus sent her to me. He knows my weaknesses.”
“Perhaps if your tongue was ripped out of your mouth and hung on the church door with the word rapist written on your white angelic robe, God would stop sending the women to you.”
“You love me too much to do that.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Remember when you burned Daddy’s hymnal because he punished me for not wanting to go to the church picnic?”
“Cracked my knuckles good.”
“So you see, I was right when I said that you love me too much to hurt me.”
It hurts to breathe. My neck feels like it’s being stabbed by a thousand tiny knives as I began to wake up.
“How did I get in here?”
“My guess is you opened the door and walked in here,” said Jacob.
“Do I know you?”
“Jesse, I thought you said this one was dead.”
“Oops. She must have been stronger than the others. Do something with her for me.”
“Don’t I always.”
“I guess, I will leave you two. Miss Sarah, believe me it was a pleasure.”
Pleasure. What does he mean pleasure? All I feel is pain. I began to cry. My rapist is gone and left me with this man who…
Blood. There is so much blood on my dress. Oh Jesus.
“There ain’t no reason for you to be crying. This ain’t nothing you can’t recover from. I buried my best friend today. You don’t see me crying.”
The man walked over to me and roughly put his hand on my mouth. I almost gag from the smell of whiskey and dirt.
“I’ll get you a dress.”
I leave the room and walk into a closet filled with choir robes and a few dresses as well as one or two men’s suits. My hands search through the dresses. I pull out three: a pink one, a green one, and finally a blue one. Why do I give a fuck? I picked the blue one because I knew it would match her eyes. I walk back into the sanctuary. She hadn’t moved
and her eyes were bloodshot from crying. I took the dress off the hanger and threw it at her.
“Wash your face and put this on.”
I watch her struggle to stand up. A gentleman would have offered assistance. I ain’t a gentleman. She limps to the washroom and closes the door. I heard the water running.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
“If you say so.”
“You don’t come to church?”
She walks back into the sanctuary wearing the blue dress. Jesus, she looked beautiful.
“Why don’t you come to church?”
“You about done asking me questions?”
“Dove, I don’t go to church because Sunday is when I make my money. You ever sit in here on Sundays and notice a lot of husbands missing? The men are in the back woods behind my house buying what you call the devil’s brew. I make the best white lightening in three counties.”
I pull a bottle of whiskey out of my pocket and chug about half of it. She glared at me, but she didn’t protest.
“You want a taste; might make you feel better.”
I offer her the bottle. She turns her head away.
“Do I look okay, according to your opinion?”
I grab her by the wrist and look into her eyes. A tiny eyelash had fallen on her cheek. I remove it.
“Better. We got to go.”
It‘s twilight, and the two of us sit at a train station. I stare coldly at the train. Looking over at Sarah I see her fidget with her dress. If she doesn’t stop, she’ll pull a button loose. Her eyes look as if she’s being sent to the slaughterhouse. She turns her eyes to meet mine.
“I could cook and clean for you. Share your bed. Anything.”
I chuckle at this proposal.
“I don’t picture you as a fallen woman.”
“Marry me. I’ll even forgive Jesse because he’s your brother.”
“Dove, you ain’t never gonna forgive Jesse. That’s desperation talking. And another thing, if I plan on getting married to some woman, it’s gonna be me that does the proposing.”
“I already told you. You’re gonna get on that train and get off at Waycross, and you ain’t never coming back here. If I see you or smell you within forty miles of this town, I will personally put a bullet in your head.”
She starts crying again. Goddamn it why can’t she stop the crying?
“I’m still bleeding.”
“As a woman, you should know how to handle that.”
“How did your best friend die?”
“Earlier, when I came to, you told me that your best friend died. How did that happen?”
“He stole money from me. Stupid son of a bitch put it in the car box. Other than me, he’s the only one that had a key to it. He was supposed to make the run tonight, so he didn’t think I would see it. I found him drunk in his house. I drug him kicking and screaming to a shallow grave and covered him with dirt.”
The conductor makes an announcement letting everyone in the station know that the train to Waycross has arrived.
“What if I’m pregnant?”
I lead Sarah to the train. The word pregnant stings in my head and tiny heart. I lean down and kiss her on the forehead. A baby in her belly would be my blood. I take her hand and gently massage her fingers.
“If it was mine, I’d like to see his face, if it’s Jesse’s I’d kill it. There’s an old man, Murray, in Waycross. He buys a barrel a month from me. His hobby, aside from drinking and hunting with arrows, is watching trains. Find him and tell him I sent you. He’ll be good to you.
“Will I ever see you again?”
I bend down and kiss her. Next, I pulled an old stopwatch out of my pocket and put it in her hand.
“Someday I’ll want this back.”
She smiles at me and gets on the train. I don’t stay to wave goodbye.
(for William Gay)
Days lit flat and splayed, as if to understand a life is to log its contents. Take down work. Dissect the nights you don’t sleep. Meanwhile, life hangs with death in the woods. Tin cups of waiting. Long hours of drink. But go ahead. Open it all up. Take minutes and leave them on desks come morning. Walk in the sun and sleep in the bed. Forget there are lines no one can map. The Great Divide. That mile marker where cities halt their sprawl. Springs that run dry at the hem of the Harrikin.
Michael K. Gause was born in Tennessee and raised on forest solitude and the written word. Later there were explosions. Now, after 21 years in Minnesota, he’s happy to say he’s never felt more southern. His sporadic blog is http://thedayonfire.blogspot.com.
Nearly noon, on Thursday
late October, and I see the trees
swaying within a wind that means
no fragrant breeze
here, no idle
screams, blue note egress from boughs
with foresight and worse, they bite back the bark
in street light poses, they feel so much
better, much better come
This time of year, this time
of life it breaks
down the anger, ache by ache, cold moan
in the heart attack
eaves, but maybe you know it
by now, too? by God
we must not feel so sorry
for those leaves, in free
fall, going to a place that gets
umber, then full
on, naked in a month: Winter
is the ruddy face of a poet
Or the ticking
in my youth, they run on
sticky sheets left
obliterated in the middle of the poster bed
of those welfare hotels, I’d check in
for kicks only, sucked off
dry by the usual specters, too many raven-haired sins
to enumerate them
down the block, some bloke fires up his chain saw,
and back in my brain, the fat Irish bard
in green felt derby hat: … Let it go, boyo … But oh
to anticipate the wood smoke, arriving soon
in a kind of unison, doubles as an astral
sob; now it’s about half
Dennis Mahagin is the author of two poetry collections: “Grand Mal” from Rebel Satori Press (https://www.amazon.com/Grand-Mal-Dennis-Mahagin/dp/1608640515) and “Longshot & Ghazal”from Mojave River Press: http://premiumreading.com/content/unbelievable-longshot-ghazal-dennis-mahagin-online-get. Dennis is also the poetry editor for the online magazine, FRiGG. He lives in southwestern Montana.
The third day on the run, they ditched a stolen pickup truck in the sprawling parking lot and then waited outside the doors of Nordstrom’s. Less than an hour later, they were turning out of Springtown Mall in a black Escalade.
He had picked out a well-dressed woman that was alone and it had paid off in spades. Mid-thirties at the most, looked twenty five, and she was from money.
It was a clear blue sky, sunny day but Meredith Browning turned on the windshield wipers when she used her turn signal.
“What’re you doin’ woman?” Arlen Watson was holding the gun low, resting it on the console between them. “Easy.”
“Sorry…I – I’m scared.” She fumbled with the control. The wipers went faster and the washer fluid misted before she finally got everything stopped.
In the backseat, Georgia was pawing through two shopping bags. “Oh, baby,” she said softly pulling out a scarf.
Arlen looked back at her, caught a look down Georgia’s loose fitting top and then drug his eyes back over to the driver. “There ain’t nothin’ to be scared about ma’am. Just need the car. We get out of town a ways and we’ll drop you off. Do what I tell you and everything’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Okay. Don’t hurt me.”
“Get over. Left lane, jump onto 20 west.” He looked into the side rear view, then straight ahead. “It’s comin’ up here now, 20 west.”
“Please. I’ll do whatever you say, take whatever you want,” Meredith’s voice was shaking as she took the interstate ramp. She started to cry. “Just let me go.”
“I will, I swear. Just keep driving.”
“Arlen, how far we goin’ before we drop her whiny ass off?” Georgia asked as she pulled out a sweater next and held it up. “Oh my, I do love this color.”
“Hush up back there girl” Arlen said while looking at the woman driving. His eyes traveled slow. Up and down, then up again. The sun dress, which was short to begin and had gotten his attention in the parking lot, was riding even higher now. A lot to look at there. Long, tanned legs.
Feeling his stare, Meredith glanced across the console to him. “She’s so young. Whatever has happened, or whatever you two have done, it’s not too late.”
“You’re doing like eighty. Take her down a notch.” Arlen’s look was straight ahead now.
“Oh, I’m old enough darlin’ and listen up, don’t you go talkin’ about me like I’m not even here.” Georgia’s voice from the back was now close, almost in Meredith’s ear.
“Let me help you both. I’ve been in trouble before myself.” Meredith’s eyes in the rear view mirror went cold and blank, but for only a moment.
“Trouble?” A wild little giggle came from the rear as Georgia leaned back and shoved her feet into the driver seat. “Really? Like what hon’, staying up past your bedtime? Drank too much beer on prom night?” Another laugh. “You’re just a little princess. Have been all your life.”
“Don’t you go hushing me again Arlen Watson. Fair warnin’.”
He turned in his seat again and stared at his girlfriend. His jaw muscles were working overtime now. He’d had just about enough of this mouthy little whore.
Georgia went right back at it though, meeting Meredith’s eyes that were now big and soft again, in the mirror. “I bet your daddy had money and then you married into even more. Bet your husband is twenty years older’n you too. Ain’t that right, princess?”
Georgia got no answer, so she began to rifle through the expensive purse lying next to the shopping bags.
“Hey now…I just found cash money Arlen. Couple two, three hundred…wait now. Shit, close to four.”
And then, just like somebody threw a switch, the car fell into silence. Like it does sometimes when the mind takes over and the words stop coming. It was like that until for about forty five minutes.
After passing an old Dodge Ram pulling a flatbed full of everything that family owned, Arlen finally broke that silence. He pointed up ahead, “Comin’ up here, about two miles more or so, take exit 18. There’s a closed Denny’s but pull in the lot anyway.”
Meredith did as she was told and started slowing to a stop in front of the deserted restaurant. Across the way, on the eastbound side, there was only a gas station and rest area. Nothing else.
“No, no, go on around back.”
“It’s gonna be fine ma’am. Pull around back, I just can’t let you out right here. Go on now.”
She circled around the building. Her hand was shaking as she put the car in park. “I have two young daughters.”
Arlen leaned over and pulled the keys out of the ignition. His hand brushed Meredith’s leg and stopped. He rubbed her knee and then slid slowly upward. “It’s gonna be okay.” There was no time and he knew it, but damn.
Instead of giving in to it, he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a roll of gray tape. Same tape he’d used on the stolen truck’s owner, but it was all for show this time. “Now, all I’m gonna do is tape you up.” He held the tape up to her as proof. “So, get out real slow and walk to the loading door over there.”
“Arlen, let me do her up. Nice and tight.” Georgia’s voice had gone hard and wicked. “Let me cinch that princess up good.”
“Hush, dammit. Stay put back there.”
Meredith got out slow, walked to the building and turned. Arlen had already stopped, about ten feet away with the gun raised.
“On your knees darlin’.” He motioned at the ground with the barrel.
She melted down, covered her mouth with one hand, the other held out to him.
“Please,” She said. “Oh please…don’t.” Her voice was just a whisper now.
Two quick shots cracked. Then a third. First one hit him square in the back and he barked a yell out. The next, hit him in the side as he turned. He staggered a step, his open mouth showing surprise. The gun slipped out of his hand and he went down hard. His body only jerked after the third shot hit him.
“I told that son of a bitch not to hush me again. Gave him fair warning.” Georgia said, walking past the body.
Meredith looked at the motionless Arlen and couldn’t believe she was still alive. The shock was short lived though, her eyes that had been big and round with panic, narrowed. A hard look. She didn’t speak.
“‘Sides, he was fixin’ to kill you, not tape you. I ain’t no murderer like him. Least not some dang execution like that.” Georgia looked at the Lady Smith .38 special in her hand. “Lucky for you, I found this pretty little gun in your purse. Didn’t even know they made a girls gun like this. My last name is Smith too. Guess it was just meant to be.”
Behind Georgia, the sky in the west had started to darken up and a low, far off rumble of thunder rolled over them. Not a spit of wind. Calm. She turned and then looked back at Meredith. “I do like a good storm. I like that tense kinda feeling you know. Something badass coming. All that.”
They stared at each other for a moment more and then Georgia Smith put her hands on her hips. She grinned big and said, “Well hell, ain’t you gonna thank me or nothin’?”
Meredith stood up slow, her eyes clicked over to where Arlen was laying in a small but growing pool of dark blood. She still didn’t speak but her mind was working.
“Cat got your tongue, sugar? I’ll admit, that was a close call.”
“I…thank…” The words just weren’t coming out right and all Meredith could do was shake her head. Her eyes teared up.
“All right then, its okay. Let’s go sis, we gotta put some miles in between us and ol’ Arlen here. We’ll head south now instead of west. Hell, maybe even Mexico huh? You and me. We can have us some girl talk as we go, plus I can’t drive without insurance right?” Georgia’s smile looked forced now and her eyes were just a little too bright, too jumpy.
Meredith stared at that young face and saw madness. She grinned weakly and nodded back at the girl.
Lightning zigzagged in the distance. A breeze picked up out of nowhere with the scent of rain strong. Much cooler air, cold almost, signaled the oncoming storm. Meredith hadn’t felt like this for a long time. Not since Riley Lloyd, not since that moonless night, on a bank of the Big Sandy. It seemed a long, long time ago but it really wasn’t. Not long at all.
As they walked back to the car with Georgia leading the way, Meredith smoothly reached down and swept up Arlen’s gun with a practiced hand. She closed the space between them and two steps from the car she stopped and aimed.
Georgia sensed something then, firming her grip on the Lady Smith. She started to turn but it was far too late. There was only a split second to realize her final and fatal mistake, in a short bitter life that had been full of them.
Meredith Browning was no princess.
Jim Wilsky is a crime fiction writer. He is the co-author of a three book series; Blood on Blood, Queen of Diamonds and Closing the Circle. He’s finishing up a new book that will be coming out soon, as well as searching for a publisher for a collection of his short stories.
His short story work has appeared in some of the most respected online magazines such as: Shotgun Honey, Beat To A Pulp, All Due Respect, Yellow Mama, The Big Adios, A Twist of Noir, Rose & Thorn Journal, Pulp Metal, Thrillers Killers & Chillers, Plots With Guns, Flash Bang Mysteries, A Twist of Noir and others. He has contributed stories in several published anthologies, including All Due Respect, Kwik Krimes and Both Barrels. He resides in Texas, supported and strengthened by a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.
Apache Springs the crossroads was known as, and for miles around the land was called Apache Springs also. There was a single saloon at the crossroads next to a boarding house with its roof rotted from the nightly urine of prostitutes that climbed up there and pissed beneath the moon. It never rained in Apache Springs. There was never a cloud in the sky. Because of this the prostitutes climbed onto the roof every night. Visitors began to take an interest. English or French people they usually were, spring or summertime cowboys who always stopped at the saloon first to get properly wasted.
Bug-Eyed Motherfucker was one of these Frenchmen. He spent a whole afternoon sipping rye whiskey and when he finally slipped into a good, moist stupor he headed over to the boarding house for some good, moist company. The woman only cost a silver dollar because she had a shriveled leg, but Bug-Eyed Motherfucker didn’t mind. He said, “Bonjour sexy,” and then used her cane, a piece of desert wood, to beat her across the ass. When they had finished and the prostitute was already climbing out of the window and pulling herself onto the roof with strong arms, Bug-Eyed Motherfucker realized that his pistol was gone. It had been a gift from his late mentor. They had been like father and son.
Bug-Eyed Motherfucker ran back to the saloon and swung open the doors.
Someone said, “Look at the bug eyes on that motherfucker.”
Bug-Eyed Motherfucker thought he saw the flash of his pistol’s mother-of-pearl handle at a table in the back of the saloon. He had excellent vision. The fellow sitting at that table was an Englishman. Bug-Eyed Motherfucker swaggered back there and said, “Mon pistolet!”
“My good man,” said the Englishman. “I beg to differ.”
Then the Englishman picked up the gun and shot Bug-Eyed Motherfucker through the eye. He fell dead to the floor. “I apologise for the disturbance, everyone,” the Englishman said. “Carry on.”
Meanwhile, the crippled prostitute of Apache Springs stood like a flamingo on the roof of the boarding house. She had been the one to take Bug-Eyed Motherfucker’s pistol, even though he had not suspected her because of the shriveled leg, and now she was pointing the pistol at the moon. She’d heard the other girls call the moon beautiful but, to her, it looked like a pustule that needed to be popped.
Wynne Hungerford has published work in Epoch, Talking River Review, The Whitefish Review, The South Carolina Review, and The Weekly Rumpus, among other places. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Florida.
Papaw’s ranch ain’t so much a ranch
but a two man operation with his neighbor
Terry, whose wife is also named Terry,
just two men rubbin pennies, joined
by fences mended with zip-ties, where
strung-out race horse rescues populate
junked-fields & hunting dogs are kept
hungry for the let-out in cages intentionally
hidden behind the barn for fear of PETA or
a stand-in mailman who might be canine
sympathetic, where frog ponds ain’t real
ponds but broken field tiles filled-in
with coffee-colored water as to not be a hazard,
though the two’s perception of what a hazard
is, or isn’t, is one of the many things you’ll
soon learn not to trust, like when Terry
tells you to point your tally-whacker at
that third-wire, you don’t listen & if you do
you won’t again, or if Papaw tells you
to drink the Kool-Aid from his spittoon,
you don’t listen, & if you do you’ll spend
the rest of your life trying to forget the taste
of another man’s stains.
Before he hands over the cattle-prod, he zaps it twice to remind
you of the power you’re about to hold, mulberry pie lingers
in his dentures from your annual bloodmouth breakfast, a fun
tradition as you recall—press it to hide, he says, get it to move.
After Papaw’s second heart attack, after
Terry took up drinking when female-Terry
left him for a man they both called a word
Meemaw wouldn’t allow spoken inside
the house, you spend your summers
mowing, shoveling, listening to the radio
spill racism & spitty fear, cloppin about
in mid-high muck boots past your knees, proud
of the tractor keys in your pocket, the camel
on the keychain is smoking a cigarette,
but you consider him a friend, looks friendly
enough, you learn a lot in these summers,
the taste of Old Milwaukie, about shanks
& jiggers, why shotgun shells are red,
that drinking cold chicken broth from a thermos
will keep you hydrated while you search
for castellated nuts with a metal-finder, the ranch
becomes a three-man-operation, as they start
to call it, even let you sit on the porch as the two
of them croak at the moon like frogs
in a whiskey-lingo you pretend to understand.
You awake to a flashlight in your face, predawn shadows moving,
by this time you know the drill, the pie for breakfast, the zap, zap,
get the beasts to move while they’re still sleepy—wait for the Semi.
It’s Labor Day weekend, your last week
on the ranch before starting sixth grade,
you’ve been practicing your locker combination,
the satisfying click-pop like driving
a nail into new-cut wood, Terry wants to ship
the cattle early this year, says he needs the money,
& by this time you’ve made enough mistrust-
mistakes that you’ve started asking questions,
you want to know where the cattle go after
the round-up but Papaw refuses to say, so you ask
Terry, & Terry says to hop in the pick-up
when he goes to get the money, so you ride along,
following the 16-wheeler carrying all forty
of the furry Herefords you’ve named,
you can see their eyes through the perforated
metal, same eyes watched you work all summer,
dumb as inbred retrievers, but always smiling,
& when you arrive, you realize real quick
some things are better left unknown.
You’ve seen enough sunrises to know a good one & you pray
that that morning it would be good, but it came blunt as hammer
to skull, just a sneeze of light, not a smear of color—see that boy
leaning against the fence asking for forgiveness? that’s you.
Francis Alexander Finch
tilts his plastic dinner plate
against the hard light
of Hazelton Prison,
reasoning the details
of his rape case and limiting
the movement of a single
black ant. His mother,
JoAnne Daphne Finch,
has exited the grounds
and leans on the hood
of her blue Toyota, smoking
Kent menthols. The distant hills
are disasters for her,
the dusk wrings her thoughts
then spits them out.
What’s the reason for this need?
It’s a given he’ll grow gray
inside the walls, the gray walls
touched here and there
with graffiti. He’ll meander
back to his cell for protocol,
Wheel of Fortune on a tiny screen,
the man in C-212 screaming
obscenely all night.
There are demons,
there are fucking wolves
in the concrete. There are reasons
why Francis Alexander Finch
shouldn’t be here, but he is,
as he separates the corn
and carrots and celery
on his plastic dinner plate.
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