YOUR MOTHER KNOW YOU RIDE LIKE THAT
She bought the cheapest bicycle. Light pink around its middle. You were standing in the road to be standing in the road. You shut the color off and focused on the freedom. When grandpa died you were mad they wouldn’t open his eyes for you. You said you could ride and pushed to the end of the drive. You were six years old. You’d never seen a corpse before. You’d never held a bike. Legs still bruised from riding handlebars. You pumped the pedals harder. Your mother pinched your hand until you left the coffin. You cried, never to see his eyes again. “The blue,” you said, “just one more time.” The neighbors shook their heads. You flew then, legs above your braces. When you came to a man was standing over, harsh sunlight piercing from behind his neck and shoulder. And then you took his hand.
BUCKSHOT AND DIESEL
My uncle died when his John Deere rolled over him, muddied cornfield and gravity, my aunt’s descent into madness. She chalked her papered walls with manure, pocked them with buckshot. I mentioned this before, but not the hollow sound the husks made when she was gone, like unreadable Bible pages bleached in sun, shushing in wind. In the hall was a pencil drawing of someone who looked like Uncle holding the hand of someone small—maybe me—and when asked she said it’s Beelzebub and pancakes or papyrus. Maybe pansies or papaya—something with a p. I can’t remember anymore. They say to call up memory think of something quotidian, so I think of the morning’s obituaries (only old dead), sports scores, patterns of mown grass, and the press of penises inside sweatpants at the gym. None of which bring anything back but the vague discomfort I started with. When auntie said Beelzebub I slapped her, though it wasn’t my place. My miscalculation enfolds now on linens made of silk, or some high thread count. The sheets shine so we can almost see ourselves, like ourselves. You lean back, our eyes close, it’s nothing like the house fire, nothing like the diesel stench puddled in the field.
SOMEONE WITH KEYS
We wait for someone with keys. The dry grass, ankle-deep, is pocked brown with rotting apples. “An orchard,” you say to me or to the two trees. A bee examines one sweet corpse, feet settling in sickly syrup. Across the street a mower chokes out, starts up again. The man handling it could be thirty, could be sixty, could be your father back from the dead. Mower hits a rock and the blades scream. The man looks which way the rock went and mows down iris. Eye god in the nursed dirt, purple explodes in the bed. The wife looks from the window, glances over at us, pulls the curtain. “Friendly.” I smile, but you don’t notice. I look at your hands, which are soft and nothing like his. You fidget again, pulling a leaf off the tree. You frayed the map the whole way here, determined turns while I took my time at the wheel. “Can you go faster?” I pushed my heel in for the speed up, but knew we’d be early. Like most things, this was your call. I turned the radio loud. Bob Dylan, like an angel of mercy came on, singing something we both knew. Now your hands fondle the gate latch, fold tree leaves into squares, then back to the latch. “I like what your voice does when you don’t know the words,” I say. But you probably don’t hear me. Your face follows a truck as it turns up the street, approaches, then sails past. The first night we stay here we will push what’s left of your father’s things into the back yard, we will watch bats circle the trees.
THE BALANCE OF TERROR
In the blue room it’s always five past seven. Your father broke both your arms. The balance of terror, he said. You wrote for nineteen weeks with your feet, nothing legible, but you were angry and the words felt right. Scraggly X’s over everyone’s names. The dung hull of the rudderless ship. And everything moving or everything not. Pale sky with clouds, haze, smoke. Pale sky like a blank sheet of paper. Pale you with that bruise on your arm, sucked in cheeks like air’s being pulled from the top of your head. The neighbor came over with a stack of our mail, saying something’s not right with that mailman. You had blank black eyes with that circle of blue; he could see right through you. And me standing in the kitchen doorway, say silently not this time, not this time, eyeing the shotgun leaned against the wall. Bird in the fire and he spied this, saying nothing’s wrong. Not this time. “Jackass looks like papa. Cocksucker beats his dog.” Maybe one day soon someone will hit him and that will be the end of it. Half the mail’s been opened. Steamed like no one’d notice. What’s better, say, a city or a room? You watch the clock and wait for the next dose, so patient, so calm, and so still.
We’re in the grocery store and the boy behind the meat counter is looking at you. Blond boy with plastic gloves of rudimentary cleanness, the kind that doesn’t go far. He’s got dried blood ringing his elbow and a sadness in his eyes you’ll want to know about. We’re in the grocery store and the man with red hands smells oranges while he looks at you. He squeezes peaches until they fall apart, fleshy and wet on his pants, pooled on the linoleum, sweet stain of fluorescence. We’re in the grocery store, or I’ve got you on the hood of the car. I’ve got you in the back seat with your hands tied behind you. You’re on your face, whining about the taste of leather again. A man stands behind you in line. He flips through magazines and he catches your eye, black hair tucked behind his ear, his face a memory of childhood. A man walks into the produce aisle, black hair and black boots and black gaze. He picks tomatoes without looking at them. His hands become claws, become hands again, rooted in fruit, shaking with what could be rage. And you turn like you like him, like his staring at you. Lights dim, focus into spotlight bright on both your faces. His smile never ends. He lays you down, or sits you under that lamp. He’s a magician, and you’re what he’s sawing in half. The boy behind the meat counter is clapping his cellophaned hands.
Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies (forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press), as well as a flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011). She occasionally posts bookish things at http://elizabethjcolen.blogspot.com.
YOUR MOTHER KNOW YOU RIDE LIKE THAT