GO TO SLEEP YOU LITTLE BABY
In her arms is a blue-eyed boy with a dirty face. Under her flowered dress, she has another on the way. They’ve been living out of an ’85 Buick Riviera, parking all along the Ohio River. She stares out of the pockmarked windshield at a clapboard church. Yellow foxtail grass and ragweed swallow headstones in the churchyard. The sprigs’ sway lulls the boy. The graves resemble unmade beds. She studies his long eyelashes as she hums an old Appalachian lullaby her grandma used to sing. Child Services had tried to take her son once before. Nightfall, she points the Buick toward the cold voice of the river.
OHIO, 1989, AGE: 14
From the thorny canthus
of his right eye
to his dagger-shaped jaw
runs a yellow scar
already old and faded.
He drags on a cigarette,
drowns ants in spit,
jokingly calls his buddy
a crackhead motherfucker,
a lemon wedge smiling
from his teeth. And in his eyes:
the green light of Wallace Stevens,
or better yet, a blade of grass
reaching out for a meager
amount of rain.
Venom in his voice,
a rattrap for a tongue.
A dust devil lives in his throat.
He’s kin to the flatted-fifth,
son of a minor key.
The harmonic structure
of his soul possesses the tension
of a dominant-seventh chord
pleading resolve, resolve, resolve.
Water balloons, he thinks,
sliding his hands up her shirt,
deep in the tool shed. The recipe
calls for a tangle of limbs
and tongues—her lips waxy
with strawberry gloss, neck
tasting of Aqua Net and salt.
He feels himself push
against the inside of his jeans,
sure his prick will snap
like a stick. She unbuttons
him, clamps her legs around
his waist, digs in her glitter-nails.
He tells her that he loves her.
He’s glad she doesn’t say it back.
He delights in the smell of talc
as the barber brushes
the back of his neck.
It complements the little girl
across the street walking with her
mother in their Sunday best.
How the straight razor
used to dance in his mother’s hands,
shuffling along the strop, gleam
in the lemonade light of summer.
His daddy slouched in a kitchen chair
set on the porch overlooking
the chickens scratching the yard bare.
She’d tilt Daddy’s head back,
lather his scruff with a horsehair brush
and scrape the blade across his face,
holding the razor like a butterfly
by its wings. That was long before
the tractor crushed Daddy’s ribs,
collapsed a lung, years before
she started reeking of whiskey,
a lifetime before she staggered over
and snatched the straight razor
from the boy’s hands, and wheeled
the blade in a stupor, slicing his cheek,
all before he moved in with an aunt
he didn’t even know, down the block
from here where the sun paints a square
on the black and white tile floor,
and scissors snip-snip in his ears.