“Beans” by John Paul O’Connor

John Paul O’Connor


The way my father told the story, it wasn’t Jack who climbed
the Beanstalk. It was my sister and I. We were very,

very poor and my mother asked us to go sell the cow, whose part
my father gave to our dog, Igor. How sad I felt for my mother,

who was so desperate as to send her two young children
out into the world to bring home food for the family. Was this

why I discovered her one afternoon in her bedroom, sheer
white curtains feeding light onto her face as she wept? When we

came home with only beans to show for the cow we sold (what else
could we get for a cow that resembled a black Labrador?)

she screamed hysterically and sent us to our rooms without supper,
throwing the beans out the back door with a disillusionment

that was always with her. The narrator hid from the picture, omniscient
and absent, spending his time at the AmVet hall or at Nick’s Tavern

where he learned the art of long elaborate tales which he told only
on the occasional nights when he drank at home and we gathered

around curious to know who he was. If he were sober he stayed
behind his newspaper and called for his supper like the giant

at the top of the beanstalk, growling at his tiny wife. Had he enough
to drink, the story would continue and the giant became

what we always hoped he would; a kind soul who did good work
for the people of the kingdom. But this wasn’t a kingdom.

It was a four-bedroom house in Albuquerque in 1958 when there were
no giants, but plenty of dogs and children and drunken fathers

whose wives wept in the privacy of their afternoons and yelled
for their children at supper time. Food was on each table

and from my window I traced the long trunk of a poplar tree
to its top, where white flimsy clouds couldn’t hold a thing.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
2009 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

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