LIGHTING THE ROCKET
It was almost finished, the rocket fuse
nearly lit. Wind blew flame to my thumb,
blackened it. A woman walking in Grape
Ape purple headphones crossed the street,
then sped into a jog. We yelled, “Run
faster, bitch!” Or we didn’t. What was said
was maybe worse. I don’t know
what I said, but my mouth is a casket for it.
What boys say to women should stop
their hearts. The woman’s husband
stomped over not ten minutes later, while she
sat in the car behind sunglasses,
and the shitty rocket was still grounded.
He told us with a sharp finger
we were “punks” and “the worst kids
in the neighborhood.” Maybe we were.
We traded black eyes and split lips
just for fun. We threw ice cubes and eggs
at the gas station that sold us cigarettes.
Misogyny was a word we didn’t yet know,
and we were heart-shaped, beating ourselves
against ribcages to end the moment.
The man was one of us, and we knew it.
My grandpa used to say, “He held his mouth
right,” and he did—the lips just so, teeth
set in seethe. The polyurethane
caked on his chest from the fridge factory
on Stolle Lane was proof enough. “Stupid,”
he said. We knew our fathers’ fists
better than any teacher’s best efforts.
The man eyed the rocket, us. He saw
the shame in our faces, said “Fuck it, let me,”
and he grabbed the lighter out of my hand
quick as rainfall. The brush of his watch
over my thumb was lightning to sand
and left what felt like a jagged glass shard
spiked into my skin. He said, “Women
shouldn’t be afraid to walk the sidewalks
around you idiots,” as he hiked up his gray
Saturday sweatpants, picked up the rocket,
shook it, pulled the fuse out (it pulls
out?), and lit the fucker. We all watched
close-lipped (we held our mouths right)
as the white-blue cylinder flew up unsteady
in a high wave, was left-thrown by the wind,
then thudded down like a shot bird
across the field. The woman, headphones
looped around her neck, stepped out,
picked up the rocket, and set it at our feet
with a shark-eye glare under raised
shades. “You’d be cuter kids
if you smiled more.” The rocket smoked
right there until it didn’t.
—from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Brian Morrison: “Poetry gives me the chance to consider the more confusing parts of life. I like lyric that leaves ears ringing.”