My dead uncle was once a brown-eyed boy
who dreamt of being an astronaut in bell-bottoms,
chopping lines of angel dust on a motorcycle seat
after his second marriage fell through.
But first, a hitchhiker at sixteen
screaming up the road near Clemtown,
where a stray tornado tilted the sky’s gray
onwards into pink. He smoked his teeth brown
near a hatch of frozen prairie falling
into the Tygart River dam, where Charlie drowned.
My dead uncle played a golden telecaster
that left behind thrushes of Marlboro red skeletons
in the mulched December West Virginia snow.
Fuck you for leaving me with all of this,
my dad says of him in 2017, as he quietly cares
for their dying father alone. Dad, a spark
of Copenhagen breath who’d never hit a woman,
was a Miller Lite brain acidic from a shot-up house
and a bullet put through a brotherly temple
on the Ides of March in 1985.
My dead uncle almost killed Mamaw with a ricochet;
almost killed dad just the same.
A murder of bikers once wrote FUCK YOU,
MR. AND MRS. MITCHELL
in the back of a funeral guest book;
now we only speak of curated, undeadly memories
before our bruises swell into a room
and rush into a ziplocked mouth.
Dad broke his hand in a mountain bike accident,
but we omit the patriarchal postmortem
identification of spilled brains on a patio carpet.
One of the brothers busted papaw’s stereo with a hammer
and then a belt broke each of their asses raw,
but everyone’s lent a pass to the alcoholism on a gravel throat.
I drew a picture of my history teacher naked
like Burt Reynolds in Cosmo and dad pinned me to the ground,
put all of his weight into me, and said I’d end up dead
like his brother if I didn’t shape up.
It was the only touch we ever shared.
Was I actually a bad seed growing romantically fatalistic
in a junior high wind, or just an unfortunate reminder
of his inability to make a more complete offspring.
A three-hour drive home and, again, Dad says he missed me,
and that his bloodline will die with me
if I don’t bring another body into this world.
So much desire to grow a baby inside me, it’s no wonder
these chromosomes hum womanhood.
My hand unspools into a clapboard house;
a birthright of its own trauma, sewn up and gushing
through lumped throats and turned around picture frames.
We’re all afraid of death after someone else’s makes us alone.
Whenever I was suspended at school,
I fluffed my breasts up in the mirror in hopes of staying upright.
I am a good mother but I am an even better infertile little spitfuck,
never taught how to love generously or how to love at all.
Only how to ball a fist at a slurring death threat.
Only to be filled with the delusion that Brutus’ knife
went so deep but didn’t come out the other side.