Our landlord hands
my father the 12-gauge.
Daddy hefts steel,
grins at the weight,
eyes down the barrel.
in the stock’s
finger strays near the trigger,
sight across the kitchen table.
Break action –
I coulda blown
that guy’s head off.
The first time was third grade on the school bus.
Bruce, a kid so charged with energy, the teacher
strapped him to his chair with his own belt.
Zebra, he said. Just loud enough for me to hear.
Then fourth grade – Henry called me a nigger.
Tammy defended me: She ain’t no nigger.
He was straddling the seesaw. We popped it up
under him, hit him in the balls.
In eighth grade Rob drew railroad tracks on the wall,
me riding a caboose. Big afro. His caption:
Rachel – Soul Train. I drew him with a hand
between his legs. Rob – Chronic Masturbator.
Finally high school, Josh mumbling stupid nigger
after I said he was screwing a slut. I know you hurt
when you hear these words, but don’t feel sorry for me.
Except for that last part about me being stupid,
we were all just telling the truth.
That summer I find the rabbit fur scraps in the empty five acres next door, the field dry-brown except for Johnson grass, my Shetland lunging for the mealy red tops, nearly wrenching the reins from my hands. This futility, pulling with a 7-year-old’s scrawny arms, will follow me – I’ll never get it right – when to slide off and lead, when to dig my heels into an obstinate flank and nudge inertia three steps toward the next distraction. A kingsnake skims its blackness over my bare feet. Silky purple thistle heads are no less irresistible to me for the pricking punishment I risk. I find the bleached skulls of mice, a carved blue bead. I find the gray and white fur lined with copper satin, pieces of a rabbit skin jacket someone destroyed, or never sewed. The field crunches with ice in January, sprouts spring clover, Indian paintbrush. It sparks on July 4th, three hundred feet of hose, my parents and uncles stomping and spraying. Our Labrador pleats a baby rabbit into the hollow cradle of her mouth. I am a small brown girl. I don’t have one of those jackets. I treasure softness, my stubborn tongue. My always-angry father asks, Where did you get this? Where, my mother pleads. I don’t remember talking but I must have – finally left alone to learn again to keep my hands hidden and my beautiful mouth shut, my mouth that strains, that pushes and pulls, that champs with secrets, my mouth that gobbles mane, weeds, scales, fire, dirt.