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A Boy

We knocked Jake Brown

to the ground

in eighth grade, kept him there

with words, Get up, retard. A man

is born strong. I dare

you. A boy is meant to stand up.

But Jake wouldn’t. My son Brendan

can’t. Day after day. It hurts to see him

stuck. The report branded

him retarded, abnormal, impaired,

delayed. Waves of words. In water

I make him

new. Rub spasms

from his back. Come on, Brendan.

Help me. Flat on his belly, he hugs

the shower’s tiled ground. Please, son. Tries to pull

himself up. Slips. Ripples

the white curtain. He’s

safe. No blood

this time. Just clear streams

pearling. I keep

fit. Lift weights so I can lift

him. Kneeling, I raise him slow. Why can’t you

do this on your own? Soap-slick bird,

my six-year-old boy slips

through my hands. Can you

make things easier

just this once? I hold

tighter, won’t let

him slip

again. Jake’s eyes crossed behind bifocals,

he’d fumbled

my pinpoint pass, tripped

at the rim. My boy stays smaller

than other boys. Still it hurts

to lower myself

to him. I need

more strength. Old words foam inside

me, held back. Are you

an idiot? My son looks

away, water streaks

his face, washes

away tears, his mouth

bitter with Dove suds, words

that never roll off

his tongue. Sissy. Jake lost us

the game. You play

like a girl. Behind the veil

our shadows. In steam I tell myself

words will dissolve, droplets

soothing my mouth, running down my chest

onto Brendan’s back.

Four years ago, I told the doctor,

my voice measured, Be careful

with those words. The shower stream grows

cold, I am naked

and shivering. In the drain’s dark well

our echoes. I want to believe

in him. It was just

a report. Jake’s bifocals cracked,

he pissed

his Toughskins. Moron. More than

a word. Sprawled like Jake

on pavement, my son spreads out

his arms, little wings

spanning the damp

expanse. My feet sank

into wet grass. Jake ran from us,

sandy hair whipping

his freckles. Sorry, Daddy

didn’t mean it.

Because he’s my boy,

it’s my fault. I need new

words. Waking bird. Fierce

starling. My hands pat him dry, smooth

his hair. It shines

like feathers. One skinny leg

kicks out.

His hands search

the wall,

push me away

to lift off alone,

stand up to me

just this once.

from SeizeFind more by Brian Komei Dempster at the library

Copyright © 2020 Brian Komei Dempster
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Brian Komei Dempster Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.