We four boys was all half-brothers and Mama
got none of us from Pops. We come from some other
men from her past who died in wars or fell off trains,
left for a smoke, vanished into thin air. Mama was real
as rain, but Pops was a step-daddy and he don’t look or act
nothing like us. Pops like to move us round the land
so we never stayed put.
We lived in the backwoods, and in clodhopping shacks.
Lived where the sun burned itself down each day
at the edge of the earth, in some deserted wasteland.
And when I was along my 9th or 10th year of life, we settled
for a spell in a pink frame house on some yellowed prairie
in the middle of nowhere.
That pink house sat on a smallish hill without a name
in a field with no ends. Neighbors far enough away you’d need
an eye-squinting to grab a look at them coming and going.
But Pops act like millions of eyes be watching us with their breathing
right down our backs, afraid if he don’t treat us manly, they’d go a
questioning his man-ness.
Like when he made us take turns at beating one of them
goats with a baseball bat. We couldn’t get that critter bleeding
enough, because our arms gone all cripple on us suddenly,
and we couldn’t look the goat in her eyes no more. Pops grabbed
that bat from me, hollering that he’d kill us all, and then he showed
us the mannish way to be bringing a strayed creature
to its death.
That goat done nothing wrong but follow her God-given nature.
She wandered up into them pots on the porch and took to eating
the greens that Pops be planting there. And there’s nothing we boys
or Mama could do once Pops got a hold of that bat, except be looking
down at our shoes and kicking the dirt, and try to block the screams
of that creature from our minds.
Pops like to be showing folks he put the backbone in us. Like when he got
to thinking that the fields with no ends growed too high. That prairie
loomed larger than the pink house and his truck, make him feel like
he don’t exist no more. Pops blaming us for nature’s rising up, so he’d
slap us into mowing that wild wheat down to stubble and dust, with that
rusted manual mower heavy as all hell.
It needed two of us boys to push it and make the blades go round,
took a goodish part of the afternoon just to cut it all down to his liking.
Pops then have us go out there with butcher’s shears, hunting down
the survived stalks left standing. There’d be some of them wild stalks left
behind from the mower’s teeth that I’d turn a blind eye to. I’d be letting them
few stalks stand like that upright, let them wave in the breeze, the ones be
showing a new life or green bud coming out.