They cornered the boy in the forest.
Removed his clothes and loved him.
He walked home shirtless, stinking of men.
In high school, he kissed a girl.
Learned what to do with his tongue,
trained his fingers into fists.
He stole chocolate bars from the grocery,
lighter fluid, boxes of cigarettes.
Grew handsome and lean.
The first pregnant girl sent her wrists
in an unmarked envelope,
which he promptly burned.
The second made an easy wife.
He bought a simple house,
a lawnmower, two rusted cars.
Studied mythology and auto mechanics.
Took a job in a gas station
at the edge of a clumsy town.
High school girls gathered in the parking lot,
popping strawberry bubblegum,
eyeing the steady branches of his arms
as he wrenched and geared and oiled.
The dumpster behind the shop became a hamper
for undershorts smeared with pink lip gloss.
Caught fire every few weeks.
At home, he learned to wash plates
and fold towels. Take out the garbage,
bury hamsters, hammer nails into crooked things.
When the fourth child arrived, an idle boy
who smelled of mothballs,
he quit the auto shop. Took up chess. Cigars.
Pornography. The day the boy turned seven,
the man – now limp and grey as dishwater –
walked into the forest, found a blackbird to shoot.
When the bird refused to die,
he tore off its wing. It only looked at him
and blinked its stupid eye.
He delivered it to the river.
Watched its tiny beak fill with water.
Its eyes, gorge. He stroked its slick feathers,
their lovely, lovely gleam.
Jeanann Verlee is author of Racing Hummingbirds, winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New York Quarterly, FRiGG, kill author, and PANK, among others. She lives in New York City. Find her at jeanannverlee.com.