I think about a one-room cabin
with smoke-filled rafters
and the worn flashcards.
My little brother was learning his abc’s
and getting his q’s and p’s mixed up.
He had to start over each time
he got one wrong;
correctness was my father’s only
prerequisite for dinner. The year before,
it had been about tying his shoes,
but he couldn’t even get them on the right feet.

Bunk beds lined the walls, and I remember
hearing him in his shadowy recess
inventing his own codes,
rolling the letters around in his mouth,
tapping the cards on his baby teeth,
trying to make them make some kind of sense.
The rest of us sat in gas-lit silence,
having passed muster this time
(and feeling a little guilty-glad we had),
eating another night of trout
and trying to will him the answers
along those telepathic sibling lines.

Trekking that distance between
his bottom bunk and the head of the table
where my father chewed implacable,
he returned to be tested again
and again, each time assuming a new confidence
as he offered up the cards and himself.
Maybe he thought there was some trick
and that sustained him, or maybe
he was certain the odds would fall
for him sooner or later.
He hiked that relentless portage
long past dark. I sighed my invisibility
and tried to find solitude in focus.

One night my mother got a fishbone stuck
in her throat, and we watched her pain
supplant her child’s. Efforts to dislodge
the difficult bit didn’t help,
but my father just kept pounding her back.

(c) 2020 Melissa Simonds

CONGRATULATIONS to our Second Prize Winner, Melissa Simonds! Melissa is an English teacher currently working at St George’s School in Rhode Island. Her favorite things are her two kids, poetry, music festivals, and long walks in beautiful places.

About octoberprojectmusic

Julie Flanders Marina Belica Emil Adler
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