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“Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we have not learned its nature:
  it is our future that lays down the law of our today.”
    ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, preface to Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits

She sang me to sleep
Every night
Once upon a time
But that was before we left
The farm
Our family
Everyone I knew to have cared
Our roots
The past
I didn’t really leave

I was about to start my fourth week
In Raleigh
Having driven there to start school
Three weeks earlier
I began to wonder what was going on back
In the perpetually dumbfounded town
Where I’m said to have grown up
Not whether they thought of me
Who would’ve thought
Just whether they had news
So I picked up the phone

“Where have you been all this time?
  We didn’t know how to get in touch”

“You mean you wanted to hear from me?”

“Well of course”

Since when had I heard such a thing?

Not when I was sent
Outside because being indoors was
Better for her than for me
Down to the cool damp basement
At night
Next to the enclosure
Where the dog was sent both in punishment
And for sleep
But he had a rug
On that cement floor shared by two parked vehicles
Because my snack was too noisy
No matter how quietly I tried to eat
As she corrected papers
At the table
Off to the piano
That stood in the back room
Out of the way
Onto my bike
Though there was never a complaint
Lodged against the dog down the road
That had chased me down and bit me
Drawing blood as I pedaled past
Back to the school
Where I just had to hit ’em back
Though eventually I was outnumbered
Hundreds to one
By which time the two of them paid
For lessons in fighting

Not when I was disbelieved
The day I told her the way to the piano teacher
Who happened to have the same name
As somebody else in the infallible church
Until forced to knock on that person’s strange door
I waited long nonplussed minutes as nobody answered
Before I was politely granted the initiative
To tell her all the turns to incredulously make
As she drove us both to the correct door
The lesson missed
The evening I came home and said
The church had caught fire
I’d been rescued down a ladder from third-floor choir practice
Until dinnertime came
At which time she noticed the trails of soot
Below my nostrils
And even then thought not of smoke inhalation
The morning I said adopting a nine-year-old
From hardened life in the foster home down Prison Camp Road
Or anywhere else in this forsaken clodhopping state
Would be about the least useful thing she could do
To help me socialize
Or whatever she called it
Fine she would raise a God-fearing child
Out of him too
Oh yeah
Now two of us rejects needed care and companionship
And at best got commiseration
While at worst he took up the spear she’d acquired on a mission
To save Africans
And chased me brandishing it all through the house
Even all the way out of it
Which is why he and I never met or spoke again
Once we were both out for keeps from under a roof
That was what we’d had in common over the years
Between the time she made the decision to save him too
And the time she was committed

Who knows
The wisdom of not checking out
How carbon monoxide might’ve gotten the better
Of the dog and me
The frigid night they’d driven me to Pennsylvania
In the covered bed of the pickup
Which had cab room only for them
Not the two of us furry stragglers
Huddling in back
The wisdom of the chill from
Ice-cold drinks
After I’d come down with the flu
The chronic sinus infection I carried over the congested years
The deeper infection of chronic intimidation
Whenever I met a smart, beautiful girl
And made my retreat
The wisdom of the endless tetracycline
Or bursting every zit under too-bright lamps no matter how painful
Whether the clothes from the factory outlet
And the drugstore glasses
Made me even less able to fit in
Than I already would’ve been
When I couldn’t let my prospective friends into the house
While no one else was there
Or I’d get a likkin’
Which was yet another reason
Once I’d turned a disbelieving face or two away
From the sliding glass door
I knew so little of friendship
For so long

Not even way back when we still lived in Pennsylvania
With the move south looming
As one Sunday morning I went calling for her
Though she was nowhere to be found
Until with direction from invisible guides
I slipped quietly out the door
Padded down the front steps in my jammies into the driveway
To find her hiding behind the car
She thought sadly
Her attempt to escape me had been in vain
Oh yeah

And not since the many Sunday mornings after the move
When in my imagination
The proud stuffy congregation
Was raised to new levels of belief
Via the intrusion of spacecraft of various sorts
That would crash through the indifferent walls
Sweep overhead with lights beaming all over
Deafening and dumbfounding everyone there
Who would then at last inwardly admit
What they stood and outwardly testified each Sunday
That we’re not alone
The minister’s endless drone
Would at last cease
At the breathtaking sight and sound
I’d watch
My excitement increasing
As each ship made a more impressive entrance than the last
Over and over
Until I’d all but consider them physical
Until delightedly I’d turn to get a better look
Until in the name of discipline
With a sharp pinch on my arm she’d growl:
“You’re gonna get it
  When we get home”
Each of those Sundays from that painful touch onward
My imaginings turned fearful
As I knew she irrevocably kept her word
Though a dimly-lit restaurant lunch
Would first disturb my recalcitrant digestion
A pass through
The fashionable women’s clothing shops at the mall
Would first give me ample opportunity to envision the paddle
A visit to the uncle’s family
The next town over
Would first leave me plenty of time to contemplate its hardness
Before the moment would finally come
When we’d get back to the house
Before the moment would finally come
When we’d climb the thankfully large number of stairs
To the kitchen
When the moment would finally come

“Who would’ve thought”

“You’re still there?”


“How ’bout you call us every Sunday?”

“Oh yeah

For decades afterwards
That Sunday call would be a weekly ritual
So like clockwork
That more than one of my cohabitants would claim
Any call to or from there
Any other day of the week
Signified a calamity

I dream of a place where the normal’s been jettisoned
Where hatred dispassion sickness exploitation withdrawal are recognized
As the only unwanted things
Where spitting brown mucus provokes concern
Not refrigerated sugary beverages
Likewise for periodic runs
Where clothing choices are choices
And don’t matter much anyway
Likewise trips to clothing departments
As unswervable punishment looms
Where depravity’s never sexual
Where no one’s called to hit back
Or if one must fight out of rejection
Where help is there
Both moral and tangible
Where women are free
To evince compassion solicitude acceptance
Where pets and children are welcome upstairs in the kitchen
And up front in the cab
And believed
So long as they don’t bite

None of it is real

My name’s Shalom
I’m five
I live on an Allegheny farm
My grandma lives in the next home up the road
The only other manmade structure you can see from here
Besides the long long electric fence
That keeps the cows in
My other grandma lives just in town
They both love me
Let’s play till sundown
When she’ll again sing me to sleep
Like every night
Once upon a time
Before her song will be transposed
To an inaudible key

Thanks always returns

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