Birds of Prey
I was nine. My parents came home hollow from the hospital.
My mother sobbed in wild animal cries, violent splotches
of purple spread from under her skin, her chest
her cheekbones tainted; my father silent
slumped in his easy chair, his neck gray-yellow
half of his face buried in clenched raw knuckles.
His eyes wide and white, he was unable to see me
and in that moment, I knew in my terror
my older brother was dead.
In our living room, atop an old television console
sat a junk-store hunk of metal art: silver-plated vultures
wings spread for battle, faced off at the edge of long thin rods
balanced with magnets against a thick knotted rock.
My father stared through me to the blank screen, raised his eyes to the ugly sculpture above.
The silver-plated raptors trembled, constricted under my father’s gaze
one bird shivered, then swayed, gave one dreadful bounce, the other bird recoiled
one vulture up, the other down, until they rose in gradual slopes – clumsy half-turns
the room's dimness disturbed by tiny shocks of blue spark.
The birds spun in full gyrations, those raptors bowing in at each other
the vein in my father’s temple pulsed, once, twice, a third time
the rods beneath the raptors’ claws whipped into a frenzied carousel
woven into helixes, my father’s face grimaced, crimson
the birds pitching fits in uncontrollable coils.
My mother gasped from under the dining room archway
my father turned toward her, shattered, the spell broken
the birds collapsed, clattered to the carpet.
I scuttled to the room’s far edge
crouched between couch and corner.
One more remnant from that winter
packed away, rarely mentioned.
San Pedro, Los Angeles County
My childhood backyard in the East was eroded by dirt and vine.
Daffodils grew untended each spring, a stubborn swath of yellow spikes
choked in squalls of ivy, the yard edged by wild blackberry, honeysuckle, roses;
slabs of teakwood – my dead brother’s tree house – abandoned in one dark corner.
After he died, they packed away his photographs artwork archery set
cloaked the mirrors in black linen painted his bedroom walls claustrophobic pink.
They rarely spoke his name, the pain, you know and yet his absence remained thick
winter dust trapped in worn linoleum the troubled dreams of chronic fever
the weight of unclaimed space.
Eventually, I ran as far as I could get.
His echo follows, Pittsburgh to Pedro
where I land in my own small garden
pliable sand wide scorched sky.
At dusk, fog creeps up 8th street like ghosts from the Pacific
weaves through sprawls of white moonflowers
dulls the bitter scent of absinthe softens the gray-green mounds
along my walkway the leaves turned into velvety lace.
The mist swirls through my poppies until they are a blur of scarlet stars
and all that exists is this one moment everything hushed and radiant.