Fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Blatz beer on our father’s breath. That autumn Michael and I bagged leaves and burned weed with Anthony, walking house to house with a rake, ringing the doorbell and not running. He taught us how to ask for what we would be owed. We raked and mowed the small lawns of auto parts plant workers and huffed rags from the gas, irrevocably wrecked. Skinny cracker girl Franny, with the racist grandma, bent over Algebra equations on her front steps, put them down to dance for us with dark-skinned big-boned Carolyn. They did the Freak to an 8-track wax disco jam rising out of Mr. Robinson’s Lincoln Town car—doors opened, speakers blaring, he washed that damn car every day. My father sold things, drove long miles, then came home to fall asleep in front of the rabbit ears, my mother off to night school. I sat up late by an AM radio, singing the Isleys, O’Jays, Donny Hathaway’s “I’ve sung a lot of songs, I’ve made some bad rhymes.” Once Victor’s mother the nurse bandaged his hand while smacking him in the head repeatedly for being so stupid, burned by an M80 he didn’t toss fast enough. We were always daring things to explode in our hands. Davey’s father’s thick arms mapped with scars from the glass factory. Each of his six children wore those scars. And we were all the shards of shiny things, black pieces of coal pressed to diamonds in the pale Ohio light. We were newly shined fenders, carburetors and the grease of a socket wrench. We worshipped ex-ABA rebel ballers, Dr. J rising from the far foul line. We were the color of food stamps and free lunch, blue denim and wide lapels. We were funky as Patti Labelle chanting, Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? We were missed translations passed hand to hand on tiny slips of paper. We knew the secret signs, read them under a black light. Michael’s father, Vietnam Vet who sold weed, sat on the back porch, playing his beat up six-stringed guitar. Oh how he crooned those country tunes dreaming he was Charlie Pride. We’d tease his son till he swung an awkward jab then we’d fall down laughing on the cracked sidewalk, scraping our knees. We were Band-Aids ripped off fast. We knew the scars you can’t see are the ones that last. Mathew’s older brother smuggled us beers out the back door at the UAW hall. We drank them under the bleachers of Scott High and talked of hoops and high school dances we snuck into and whose bra we lied about undoing, or admired the tough older girls like Franny who teased what boy she let or slapped us down for getting too close and the places she would go, one day far away as Paris or Marrakesh, or the tenth moon of Jupiter. She smoked her filterless cigarettes and stared off at the horizon as the tornado sirens blared. She blew smoke in our faces, tugged on the strap to her halter top. She was doing the math. She already knew the metric system for starlight. The calculus for getting out—
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of fifteen books including the forthcoming The Second O of Sorrow and All You Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014. His awards include an appearance in Best American Poetry 2014, and a US Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans. He works in a pool hall in Erie, PA.
Artwork by Allison Dalton