The culvert washed loose one summer;
the rain, relentless, offered with it a car
and the road beneath to the rising creek.
I always thought it a warning: Go,
before the exits are taken.
After, every time I’d return,
I’d slide down the steep drop
of county road, tapping
my brakes, knowing
it wasn’t home, knowing
I didn’t belong there, knowing
it was a kind of haunted: every acre
of that holler; no ghosts lived there,
only the shadows of kin
who had no light to bring.
Guilt craves a blur.
I couldn’t have been more than three feet tall
when my uncle hit me – punched me in the soft center of my stomach
on his second day of binge drinking.
It hurt; I’m sure he felt it upon sobering.
He didn’t apologize;
not all can be settled with forgiveness.
I was a child learning to stay within the lines, understanding instead
what makes them go away.
It was in watching the way my mother talked him down with kindness,
spoke to him as if he were a man under a disease:
addiction, sure, but secondly; the first, being a forgotten man and knowing it—
I learned little mattered more than finding a way to manage
the sort of moments that won’t go away, the kind that remind you
where solitude begins, the unkindness which makes you forget your strength.
Meanness was never something I saw in his eyes,
even after he knocked the air clean from my lungs.
Little as I was, I shook it off, found my legs, knew to wait
until the distance left his face. It always did, returning with the grin I loved.
Years later, flinching through the call: In 48 hours, he’ll be gone.
My thoughts went backwards, found me a decade before
in those angstful teenage years when I’d learned my way with him;
we weren’t so different.
He saw it: his family doing to me what had been done to him.
Neither of us were like them – it humored us, their disdain.
We’d laugh, a secret language of nods becoming a mockery
of their judgment. Outside of this, he was unable to speak:
a stroke left him less dependent upon liquor, more upon interpretation,
what could be guessed by grunts.
Still, in those years, he was family
when those who’d held the same name as me couldn’t manage.
He taught me, if only by accident, how to survive—
how to blur the lines better than he had.
Rachel Nix is an editor for cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review and Screen Door Review. Her own work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, L’Éphémère Review, and Occulum. She resides in Northwest Alabama, where pine trees outnumber people rather nicely, and can be followed at @rachelnix_poet on Twitter.
Artwork by: Petra Zehner
Petra Zehner is a German-born graphic artist and photographer based in Paris, France. She works with found images and media as well as her own photographs to create minimalistic mixed media collages and illustrations.