by Dan Leach

No doubt I was coming home
From some dumb minor quest.
Say I was snatching fireflies
From the blue air
And testing my new voice.
Say the lemon-flavored candy
I stole from Wilson’s Five & Dime
Was sleeping in my cheek.

I was cutting through the woods,
Moving towards my house,
Late, and predicting parental wrath
By the hue of the evening sky.
Cotton candy pink meant a sermon;
Cough syrup purple, a belt.
Say I was humming
A song by Otis Redding.

It was summer, The Summer,
Last day of middle school
Sunk like some lost coin
At the bottom of a lake,
First day of high school
Fixed on my mother’s kitchen calendar
As a scrawled black star.

They were strange, unstable days.
You moved from one place to another
Without having noticed it.
I went to sleep one night
And woke up taller than my father.
I looked down one day
And found thick blue veins
Writhing like snakes beneath my skin.
I spoke and barely recognized the sound.

So many little resurrections,
Not one of which asked permission.

Say I was sensing the end
Of something too big to mention.

I was almost home
When I heard it—
Voices rising
From beneath my feet.
Someone was hiding in the drain pipe
Connecting a pair of dried-up creeks
On opposite ends of the neighborhood.
Someone was smoking cigarettes and laughing.
And though someone could have been anyone,
That night someone was Jade Cooper and Nicole Hernandez.

I knelt and held my breath.
Their smoke leaked in weak plumes
From the pipe’s mouth, and their voices
Made a sweet muffled ascent, up
Through the dirt and the grass, up
Through my cut and calloused knees, up
And then down all those new avenues of skin and bone
Summer had mapped my taffied frame with.
This was happening:
Jade Cooper and Nicole Hernandez
Being secret right beneath my feet.

I had never spoken a word
To either girl. But I knew them.
I knew the stories.
Jade gave Rusty Hudson a blowjob
Under the bleachers during the Mann game.
Nicole, for two dollars and a jawbreaker,
Lifted her shirt during gym class
And let T.J. Carter lick each nipple twice.
I knew them all by heart.
The one about the Matt Mason and the jacuzzi.
The one about the Tre Black and the banana.
The one about the time Coach Wilson left the room.

Still kneeling, I thrust my fingers into the earth,
Worked them through the soil
Half expecting to hit pavement,
And when I didn’t, I kept digging.
I made a hole barely fit to hide a baseball.
I lowered my ear to it.
Head tilted, I could see the sky
through the branches above.
It was blue as my father’s suits.
It was starless and swinging a belt.
My cheek still tasted like lemons
And my forearms were a mess of hungry snakes.

Below, Jade said something that sounded like,
“So I told him to prove it.”
Both girls laughed.
Somewhere several houses down
A screen door creaked open.
I watched a cardinal disappear.

And then the world was quiet.

I don’t know how long I lingered,
Or how seriously I entertained the possibilities.
What I do know is that when Jade said,
“Come on. Let’s go for a walk,”
And I heard the scrape of their feet
Moving for the drain’s mouth,
I sprung out of my stance
And burst forth from of those woods
Like some creature with its tail on fire.

I ran the whole way home,
Kicked down the door,
Scrambled the stairs
Like a stray on all fours,
And jumped straight into bed,
My heart a pulsing wreckage
In the darkness.

This, I think, is how it happens,
How you become who you become:
You are on your way home,
Moving from one place to another,
When a door swings open,
And an angel calls out.
“You’re here,” she says.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”

You consider the possibilities.
There are always possibilities.
Heart at war against them,
You run like hell for home.

For so many years afterwards,
You try not to dream at night
About all that might’ve been
Had you simply stuck around
And let that angel speak.
You find new ways through the woods
And, some nights, actually walk them.


[Read more of Dan Leach’s poems]

[Check out Dan’s back porch wisdom here]