The thing about living here: even a child can know things.
I know every shortcut, every bike path through the park,
every street between every house. I know every kid who lives
in each one. Every crack in every sidewalk that can possibly
catch a toe or a skateboard or bike. Who is cousins with who.
Whose parents the police don’t like. Whose parents the priests
don’t like. I’m kinda kidding, but not really, you know? It’s
like that. Kids know more than adults, anyway, and in a small
town, everybody talks. I know where spring comes to the park
first, and when, and how. (In the back part, behind a certain tree,
a small patch of lenten roses. Mr. Hower, the older man who
cuts the grass, planted them. To remember his wife. You know.)
Living here, a kid knows things he shouldn’t know. He can
go anywhere, because he has a town full of adults who are
sure he’s being watched by other adults. And he is, but a kid
learns how to blend in. A kid learns early that adults will
never really see us unless they believe that we’re not safe.
And they believe this town itself is safe. So here we are, kids,
standing outside the window where Mrs. So-and-so cleans
the kitchen in her skimpy underwear. Here we are, on the
corner, planning a fight. Kids are behind the liquor store,
sipping cheap wine, and kids are in your bedroom drawer
stealing joints. Because we know every house where the
parents hold drugs. A small town is a place where everybody
watches out for everyone else so they have something to say
Monday at work. A place where each person knows the
name of each other person’s kid, but rarely knows exactly where
his is. A small town is more seduction than truth, like a trick
coin in the hand of a con. Please don’t tell any of this to my Mom.
—from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets
Rachel Custer: “These poems are part of a collection of ‘rural voice’ poems on which I’m working. The Rust Belt is, in some ways, the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic, married to rural America as an identifying philosophy. These voices are so often overlooked for big-city slick and the fashions of the day. There is a sense about rural America that nothing ever changes, and simultaneously that everything is always changing elsewhere. That we are losing ourselves. We are grounded by earth, the change of the seasons, and by work. In this sense, Rust Belt is an apt name.” (website)