Rupert Fike


“These Clothes Smell Like Smoke.”
                     - Mother

Years later you’d see it as entrapment -
     the mound of just-raked leaves seductive,
the matches, as always, on the stove,
     and you, alone, so in love with fire
you do not notice wet wash on the line.
     Instead of a whipping though, comes worse -
this new shame thing when she comes home,
     sniffs first the towels then her best work blouse.
It makes you slink, desire punishment,
     but your father is on his bar stool up at Rick’s
so there’ll be no whipping for he’s the whipper,
     usually with his hand but sometimes the belt,
what at least would bring release - I’m sorry!
     shrieked at each pop, I was just trying to help!
thrown in with your best hiccupping sobs before
     a cleansing nap on the chenille spread
that will leave red splotchy cheek marks.
     But no. You are stuck with her shoulder slump
and her worst weapon, the silent treatment.
     What you have caused. Because you like fire.
Which you now know is a bad childhood sign.
     You don't wet the bed though, and you don’t hurt
small animals so one out of the big three
     isn't all that bad. You are not disturbed.
You just make her do double-work.
     And even when you drag a stool out to unpin
the wash, even as her faded house-dress
     cycle starts up again - dragging wetness
over from the wash tub to the spinner  
     (a task beyond your height or strength),
even then the upset won't leave you alone.
     It makes you hide far away with the dust
behind the sofa in the front room.
     But even there it tracks you down
when the little house on piers starts shaking,
     when all its wall pictures start jiggling
from the spin cycle’s off-balance whump-whumps.






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