Kendrick creek current ran swift in the shallows,
seemed slower in the deep where red-eye and blue-gill
maneuvered beneath river rats near the surface.
When my brother hooked a kernel of corn, fresh
out of a can sitting atop granite, I tried to look away,
to let him slip a few golden pieces between his lips.
He bit down only once before swallowing
sweetness. It hurt like sickness, like cherries candied slick
toward ill, to see my big brother stealing bait for food
he’d set to catch so he might eat closer to full. Why was it so hard
to not be hungry? Or why, when I slipped and sliced my foot,
broken glass under water, and a neighborhood child ran
for his mother as I went on ahead toward home,
leaving a bloody trail behind me, was I surprised
to see my father show up? The way he’d responded
to that mother’s call and lifted me like an infant to carry me home.
Was it real, his worry? And where had my brother gone?
Grown tall, past tin cans and barely fleshed fish. Back when trailers
housed so many of us kids, I don’t quite recall him being there,
aside from when he’d been hurt in a baseball game. It was a mother,
not ours, who picked him up and drove him to the hospital.
Later, when she found my father she said, your little boy thought
he was going to die, thought he would go to hell. She said, no child
should be thinking such things. My brother sat pink faced, tear streaked
like strawberry and vanilla, hand over wound. I stayed up while he slept
that night, to wake him if his breath got weak or else he would not shut
his eyes, so fear struck of demons and Satan and all those tales
of being sent down into the dank folds of earth to live hot
with fire and weeping and the scent of impure child skin
burning. It was an old story, one our mother had stopped
telling when we were six and seven, but my brother had held
memory, fear spreading through his child heart, hurting for love.
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