When I was nineteen years old…
Summers at Home: Texas
I would come down from my room every morning,
half-past four and the sun still gone,
hidden behind the live oaks that rose
like twisted hands among the graves
in the yard across the street.
New graves for a new town,
the oldest stone set loosely embedded
twenty years ago in the hot sandy ground.
The whole place smelled like cats
and their scabrous digging.
When I went there the mosquitoes
would not leave me alone,
settling their hard angular bodies like thorns
on the backs of my knees, taking my blood
and leaving their poisons.
I never went in the morning.
I preferred the garage.
I left my book and yesterday’s paper
on the floor beside my mother’s crippled dog
and took up the plastic handle of a broom
that suited my purpose.
The open-plan kitchen was walled off
by a sliding wooden baby gate.
I stepped over it, setting the plastic rod
beside my ankle to ease what came next.
The dog my father rescued and whom
he would not be rid of lunged
at me from malformed legs.
Even in the dark her fur was golden
and unbearably luxurious,
her teeth were very sharp.
She bit the rod and not my ankle.
This trick almost always worked.
She was very nearly a Chow.
She had that blunt bearish face
and the proper black tongue.
She was the right length,
but her legs were dwarfish,
though beautifully clawed.
Before I worked out the trick of this
she tore my ankles ragged
every time I entered to make up dinner
or fetch mother some tea.
She could hardly go herself.
I had learned a long time ago
not to cry out at blood.
I left her worrying the punctured broomstick,
preferring that noise to expanding my anklet of scars,
and brought my breakfast of ham and sliced apples
to eat while I worked.
My mother’s blind dog sat waiting on his fused haunches,
a parody of the noble keeshond,
though loyal enough.
He rose when I joined him
and rabbit hopped to the locked door.
The third dog followed, my brief-loved
mid-sized terrier who hated the smell
of every woman past menopause.
He never even tried to bite anyone but them.
Twenty years old and fertile, he liked me well enough.
I was not disgusted by the pustulent swatch
of hairless flesh that striped his tan back.
I would even scratch the modified yeast infection
which eventually killed him.
His mouth stretched, his back leg wild with thumping,
as a yellow curd burst skin and surfaced.
It clung to my nails.
Hand wiped on shorts, my bowl full of breakfast,
my book and the paper; I slid into the garage.
I have never been a stable sleeper,
so rising was easy. Just as well, really.
The sun rose hot and relatively early.
Past nine o’clock the heat outside
would be nearly unendurable.
It was difficult enough to slap on my skates at eleven
and go do my job, carrying platters of drinks
and hamburgers to the fat, slug-like people
who sat in their trucks, the air conditioning
failing to dry their moist, slimed skins.
A day of this and I would sweat
enough to fill several literal buckets.
Their thin, flesh-buried lips would glisten and bead
with the hot blast that came
when they opened their windows.
There was a bare lamp in my office,
my moldy box of read books
disguising my notebooks,
bare concrete, stored cloth-Muffled furniture,
a dog blanket, three cases of sun-boiled soda,
a window, my father’s gym-quality elliptical.
This was my home.
I ate the apples, the ham. I let the dogs lick the bowl.
Outside was everything I had ever hated,
in flesh or in symbolic form.
I read the comics, the thin-sheet of art,
one or two of the editorials.
At four-forty-five I set down to work.
I was alternating the work of Heinlein and Jeffers,
returning over and over again to that poem about hawks.
At first, I thought it was about my mother.
I found out something different half-way through
a story about alien puppet-masters.
That made me stop.
I spent three hours a day pedaling in stirrups,
my legs aching, dripping, running nowhere,
my thumbprints yellowing the pages
I turned as I worked, leaving them damp.
I had to be careful with the books I was reading
or sketching out my verses in.
My mother’s dog loved me very much,
so much indeed that he wanted me inside of him.
A book of mine, smelling so strongly
of myself at my best, was irresistible.
If they were knocked from their shelf in my room
while I shuffled hamburgers
I would come home to find them torn apart,
spines gnawed, broken as hinges,
their pages torn out.
Sometimes the chow would get them,
though she never left her room
and I knew enough to never leave them in the kitchen.
It took more time than you would have thought
for me to figure it out.