what hurt us into poetry—your weekends on drill with the Marines, the bruises blossoming on your ribs from sparring, the ticks I removed from your hairline, our other brother who has not seen the bruise-garden blooming on your chest and shoulders, your Mercury Lynx three blocks north of us and dead because you drove it to drill and field mice infested the block and ate through the wiring. Riffing on Auden eulogizing Yeats, you say, Strong-Bad gruff: “Mad Reading, PA.” I pass you my Dr Pepper, which was already flat when it surged from the fountain. You take a slug, spit it out, pour the rest on the pavement. The soda’s weak acid fizzles; it puddles and shimmers, rainbowed as grackle feathers, treacly as oil. We sit on the curb with nothing to drink. At the store’s dumpster, a pair of rats bargain with an entourage of raccoons for a pizza box, unaware of the stray cat on the dumpster’s ledge. Mad Reading, but Mad Pennsylvania, too—the hunter’s safety courses where the three-fingered trick shooter told us that only cowards wore orange safety gear, the recruiter who cornered us near the band parents’ concession booth and pointed at our sagging uniform crotches and told us the corps would give us a pair, our father’s conviction that he would (one day, some day) repair the Datsun suspended on bricks in the back yard—although that would mean evicting the bobcat who had taken up residence there, had birthed three generations of kittens there. “After many a summer,” I Strong-Bad gravel, riff on Isherwood riffing on Huxley riffing on Tennyson, “dies the Turkey Hill.” You kick out the puddle of Dr Pepper, neutralized by the Reading street grime. As Strong Bad, you rough out a paraphrase of Nietzsche: “Stand truth on its head and deny perspective.” Like crossing into Mordor, we cannot simply list the wounds that pulse with lyric pain. The rats have concluded their bargain with the raccoons; the alley cat stalks after the rats, with the intent to inflict its own brand of poetry upon them. Soon we will go inside the Turkey Hill and beg the cashier for a phone book and search for a 24-hour auto parts store. But for now, I stand up, offer you my hand, and then haul you to your feet, as the raccoons scamper in the liquid heat of the Turkey Hill’s neon sign.
Patrick Thomas Henry (he/him) is the fiction and poetry editor for Modern Language Studies. His work has recently appeared in West Branch online, Lake Effect, LandLocked, and North Dakota Quarterly, amongst other publications. He teaches creative writing at the University of North Dakota. You can find him online at patrickthomashenry.com and on Twitter @Patrick_T_Henry