[from Rick Mulkey's Before the Age of Reason, 1998]
I didn't want to work; Dad made us.
You held a pick; I held a shovel.
And every time you gladly buried your pick
into that black sod, I wanted to bury
my shovel into your black hair.
When I clenched your neck, blood leaped:
I don't know if it was anger or fear
but as I pressed you against the ground,
the vein in your left temple swelled
and branched like a flooding stream.
We were only boys, fifteen and ten.
But I used the man talk. A kid
apprenticed to movie tough guys,
I imitated the slurs of punch-drunk boxers,
spit hanging from my lip,
or the bound-for-hell curses of rednecks
at the Milner Matz lounge,
welts and scars on their cheeks.
I spat bruising words tongued in rail yards
where peroxide whores, numb from Mad Dog,
waited for Norfolk & Western brakemen.
I didn't know the power of words.
Or the difficulty in taking them back.
If I could change my life,
change yours, alter that the last time
I held you was by the throat
then I'd choke back words
meant to make you small, words
which made me smaller. I'd unclench
the past. Gladly plant trees
in shale hard soil.
Before the Age of Reason