|Jan/Feb 2016 Poetry|
Artwork by Marie Massey
Apollo, et al.
My brother, at five, is the world's youngest astronaut.
He soars around the bedroom,
from the comforter
patterned with day-glo stars.
Today, my name is Houston
and I am a mission control prodigy.
I stay on the ground and navigate him
around the orbit
of our ceiling fan
and tell him the chemical composition
of bubblegum toothpaste
and our dog's long nose.
He has a cape of old bedsheet,
solid fuel boosters packed
with cookies and inspiration.
My brother does not use a breathing apparatus.
Five-year-old lungs are full of playdough and supernovae;
only grown-ups need oxygen to live.
The same year I drop out of the science program,
my brother, at fifteen, realizes he cannot get into MIT.
Neither of us is any good at math, no matter
that we love the way our molecules collide.
When he brings me the news,
we lie on the starry comforter
and try to forgive ourselves
for the astronauts we could not become.
This is it, he says, holding up a tomato:
squirrel-punctured, oozing blackened
fluid where teeth
and rot set in.
Our tomatoes grow in tubs
on the porch;
we will not weed them
if they root
in the garden.
What is it, I ask.
The apple, he says, the first one—
the one that She bit
that doomed us all.
The plants have nets above them to fend off birds
and angels but the squirrel,
slithering on its belly,
can still slip through.
It likes to take a single bite before discarding
our tomatoes to rot on the porch railing:
a taunt. A harvest.
We have never been able to cast it out.
Instead, we slice around
the suppurating tooth marks
and eat our love apple
A slice of Wonderbread can save you
from choking on a fish bone. I learned:
We never went to church on Sundays,
but sometimes we went to Tarboro.
To supper at my great grandmother's house.
Where Uncle Quince turned discount grape juice
into homemade wine and we threw magnolia bombs
at the propane tank and knelt
in the ditch beside the empty pasture and prayed.