THOSE NIGHTS I WENT OUT WITH A BUTCHER’S KNIFE
Those nights I went out with a butcher’s knife
down the dark alley between our house
and the triplex next door, twelve years old,
my courage running down my leg, to stab
a full grown pervert running down the back stairs
when you flipped the porch lights on to spotlight
the spider stealing your panties off the clothesline,
onto my green gladiolus of a Spanish short sword
that hadn’t tasted the blood of its first blossom yet,
I don’t want to remember this anymore.
I don’t want to be estranged from my own childhood
by garbage cans that look like dangerous men in the moonlight.
When I think of those days, there’s a pervasive grey
that saturates everything like a cold fog,
and all my emotions are black oilspills on the concrete.
And all my insights come to me with a shock
like unknown eyes peering through the mail slot
you eventually boarded up like a plague door on the inside.
I watched the stardust of my innocence blow away
like the topsoil of the dirty thirties, as you spread flour
under the windows every night to see
if the drunk who lived above the grocery store
were painting his footprints on the ballroom floor again
as he had three nights before the cops wouldn’t come
to arrest an increasingly brazen Peeping Tom.
saving themselves a bullet for everyone of us who ate our own.
I don’t want to remember how excruciatingly transformative it was
to want to be the hero of a squadron of model Spitfires
that hung from my bedroom ceiling, and then
be called upon by a frightened whisper at the door
to go outside like a dragon with a flame thrower
of aviation fuel to confront the dirty end
of the joy stick of a sick world terrifying you
with the atrocious scenes on True Detective magazines
that were more intimately real on our front doorstep
than in any paranoid fantasy of yours
where big-busted blondes in torn blouses
were chained to trees by men with axes
and no one was trying to save an old growth forest.
I wish there’d been a timelock on my childhood years.
I wish things had been different, and you were always safe,
and I say this with no regrets, because I had to know
how to stand like a flaming angel at the gates
of a ruined Eden, to keep you and my sisters
out of reach of the hunting snake
with forbidden fruit between its legs
crawling up the tree towards panicked eggs in the nest
you flew around like a mother bird
in an emergency without an exit. It’s been light years since
and it’s funny how after all this time
the man in me has begun to shed delinquent tears
for the boy who had to know what a woman fears so early
I weep for you and I weep for me for all the pain and fear
we had to endure like a nightmare while we were still awake,
though I’d do it all again, for your sake, if I had to,
except now I’d go out back with a gun to get the job done.
Just the same. I wish I hadn’t grown up in No Man’s Land
and my childhood wasn’t an elsewhere zone with warning signs
not to enter without abandoning all hope
that things would ever change for the better.
I wish I’d learned the spirit of the word first
like a feather of light in the scales of the jackal-god
before my heart knuckled down to the hard and fast letter
of learning how to ambush things that go bump in the night
while my heart beat harder than a hammer and an anvil
at what I was about to meet in the dark
like the nemetic karma of the eldest son of a welfare mother,
tenuously prepared to inflict a stomach wound on a stranger
who forgot the baby rattlesnakes could be
as toxic as the adults, if you scared them so badly
all that they feared was focused like a snakepit
on wanting to get you over with summarily like an intruder
on the threshold of a lethal childhood I wish would pass
transitory as the dew on the grass, not these ageless glaciers
that still wake me up from my boyhood dreams
in a cold sweat of garbage cans and moonbeams.
What kind of a man would I have been
if I hadn’t seen perdition as a child too afraid
of being afraid, lest worse be hung over my head
than a World War II model airplane, and I burn alive
out of shame in a cockpit that never got off the ground
or went around the back to confront an unknown horror
that cut both ways like the crescents of the moon,
two sides of the same wound, one that congealed
like blood around a cut, and the other, a gash
deeper than that, in a childhood that never healed.