By Rob Franklin
In the beaten skin of summer
breathing pollen-flecked light like boiled butter
my granddaddy says It’s hot enough to curdle milk
His voice like tree sap clogging a lung
He was handsome in old photos. Hung
flush to the wall, beaming out a boozy charm
years before his cheekbones would sink into jowls
and his belly would give its suspenders something to complain about.
That was the summer my skin grew dark and plump
like something fit to be juiced.
The summer I wore a too-small suit in church
and met a pretty boy with eyes like virtue.
In lucid moments, my granddaddy would mute the television to tell me about everyone he’d known to die down South.
Other nights, he would forget me.
He would dig under his bed for the shotgun long disposed of
to chase me from his house, diseased
by his insistence on the past and everything America took from him.
And we buried him in a casket made from poplar trees.
I had my oxford crisp white by school Monday morning
And got to work unlearning
everything he’d taught me about black boys in Texas.
you can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me, there’ll never be a nigger in SAE
- Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, University of Oklahoma
His face swells by the eighteenth, and there are still six to go
daylight wasting, we fork our dinner, chewy beef
drowned in its own juice – the crack of aluminum,
chorus to another day in the lurid blush of California
we grin at the casualties on our lawn, at the
slurred words lilting through the space between us, at the
blotches ripening on his neck, his cheeks,
his lips. There are still five to go
when we joke he’s had enough Budweiser-
soaked breath as American as apple pie.
He smiles. Looks like I have
On the bus,
what begins as a hum
that has lived in a boy’s gums far too long
starts to catch, flame uncoiling in a fallow field,
and spread until each body becomes consumed in its fervor
shaking and writhing in red-cupped ecstasy.
Soon mouths begin to froth around their laughter
they can barely keep their teeth from unhinging
as they beat their mantra, one they’ve learned
from years imagining their blood runs blue
through the veins of America, and they speed out of Norman,
their chant still making the leaves on the hackberries dance —
How To Bleed A Catfish
In no particular order, here are the things you love about him:
the way every bit of his body tastes like soap,
the way your thumbprints linger in his forearm,
the way his eyes are made of a color you haven’t found a name for yet.
Georgia’s coast, an exposed neck,
all red and purple in sunset’s bruise.
It’s Easter, and ruin feels again like a prayer.
Your twelve year old body tries to suck in the bits
that spill over your discount orange swimsuit
to make your nakedness more bearable
But once submerged, the chubby limbs settle and expand
in the opacity of gurgling water
The blonde stranger across from you looks so much like his balding father
and his stare recalls the fat at your waist until he opens his mouth
with the kind of childish bluntness that knows not its cruelty
to tell you that your skin is dirty and his is clean.
His father glances an unaffected apology as if to say he’s just a kid
and you stare into the tub until they’ve left
considering every gallon of water you’ve ever dirtied with your skin.
It’s been months now and you want him
to just do it already. To hold you in the choked darkness of a twin bed
and make architecture of your limbs.
And he does.
With the jutting of bones through skin and the numbness of a stitch in your side,
you recount the list of everything you loved about him in your head. You try to make words of the aching in your throat. You close your eyes and you’re standing on a dock in the edge of spring bleeding a catfish dry over the Oconee. A clean cut. A severed tail flapping–manic, unwhole. Petals of blood blooming at the surface of the water or just beneath it like a heart opening fully before it dissolves.
When everything is said and done,
You look back up at him in the lazy half-light of his boyhood room
long enough to see the blues of his eyes shifting into focus as he remembers your body
like something he’d forgotten he owned.