Scoundrel Time


you write poems to understand what you cannot understand. name the beast you’ve been trying to outrun your entire life. you’re forty & it’s time to stop avoiding. halt the fogged spin of language that redirects the eye. say what you mean. quit saying better when you mean eviscerated. lunacy is in your blood. it’s a fact. a beast you cannot tame. so you do your best to live alongside its snarl. drill and drill until you find room in that frantic brain to plant some kind of hope: your daughter upstairs, practicing her clarinet. this morning’s toast, its butter spread all the way to the edges—small mercies to help empty the beast. so why is it, any time you write about your son, the boy who hears voices and voices and voices, he responds, sends a message out of the blue? it makes you worry maybe you’re on the same frequency. worry tomorrow you’ll wake up like him. like the woman who birthed you: tiny ghost pulled from a bigger ghost. you know better, know language is a conjuring, lineage the cruelest coven. your boy feels you writing him from three thousand miles away. perhaps he lives in your head the way your mother lives in your head. even now, after all these years, you say her name aloud and her hair grows another three inches. it’s a fact. your boy starts each message off okay. hi mom, I love and miss you so much! the relief (he’s alive! coherent!) will last a few seconds, a minute tops, before he starts spilling out a jarring sequence of words that demand you go a little more crazy to understand them. but you refuse. you want to stay here, don’t want to be what he inherited from you and isn’t that the worst thing you have ever written? boy of your flesh and mottled blood. threatened you and his siblings. promised to kill you and wrote exactly how. and these were bottomless, devastating moments, yes, but nothing in the world readies you for today’s gutting. when you ask if he’s okay, is he warm, does he have anyone to talk to. when you make yourself ask him, do you have any friends? all the swirl and dodge collapses and he says, simply, no. I don’t have any friends. and you want to jump off the bridge upon learning this. you want to chop off your hands. he is small again, first grade, waiting in the office with his head down. the principal is telling you a kid from class was picking on him. she doesn’t have to tell you who it was. you know the one. Brad. the big, husky prick who regularly punches your boy in the back of the head and calls him faggot. O, if only madness walked home down Newport Avenue like Brad did. if only you could grab it by the face and hold it against a chainlink fence, a few yards from where a group of teenagers are playing kickball. if only you could look it in the eye and hiss you touch my kid again, I will stomp your fucking life out.