The Memory Business
by Larry Johnson

    Reduce it all to bricks and chunks of cement
    your stepfather makes you gather
    for 10 cents an hour
    then wash yourself,
    and unidentifiable car parts
    in his manly solvent until
    your liver hurts when you get up
    for school.

    Get Mom's legal Dexedrine out of the closet
    off the high shelf,
    hit two and save three,
    ride your ass off
    on that big long city
    bus, trade some to Butch who had that tall sister
    (I might have loved her if she hadn't moved so hard
    to the West but God
    she was spooky with her eyes
    going all those different

    for joints.
    Trim trees for good money for Dave
    whose daughter has a glass

    eye and marries the Greek kid
    young. Visit the prison
    on a field trip, another
    time put food on a back porch and knock,
    then run, you're thinking
    back while you: Pull
    the rope back hard
    until bark chips fly
    and score
    the wood, you think you
    might finally

    try out for football this year
    (like big chance there, you with your plastic
    dinosaur collection and Grandma)

    if you could walk a little tougher
    if your little sister came home again
    if they didn't laugh at you around that beer table,
    if you could get through that hole
    in the crazy peoples' fence,
    before the rock salt flew,
    if you could get some vague bearings

    if someone's stupid life
    and that's meant in the best possible way

    didn't depend
    on you holding this rope,
    washing those pistons,
    getting together around a spare table
    in some dim-lit yellow linoleum kitchen

    like a family
    hoping someday you could teach
    somebody not to be this way.

    to live
    just to live
    to write about it.

Copyright 2023 by Red River Review. First Rights Reserved. All other rights revert to the authors.
No work may be reproduced or republished without the express written consent of the author.