Sleeping With Grandfather
I remember Mom threading the needle,
lashing the stitch back and forth in her hands.
Grandfather had just died. We found him dead
on the hardwood, skin still vibrant and moist.
No time to waste, Mom peeled him in long, shapely strips,
then cut them into worthy squares. Grandfather
would become a blanket, an otherwise mixed message
for us to sleep under. Mom paid a guy
$50 to dig a hole to throw him in, and another 20
to cover it up. She sat around the plot making the quilt,
and we sat a skirt around her while she told the story of him.
Bastard, always made off on cold nights, paying for warmth
he hadn’t bothered to find right in front of him, but I promise,
she said, you all will have. He won’t take that away from you,
and it’ll kill him, you know, shacking up to benefit his own kin.
And she was right. All those years, we had him.
At bedtime, we’d pull him back from the headboard,
tucking ourselves feet first before pulling him over our faces,
warm as any, dreams stirring under a world whispering.
The Thawing Season
There are times when the door to Mom’s bedroom
doesn’t open. Sometimes, it lasts for months.
Frost creeps from the floor tiles to the walls,
but her door still burns like a furnace. What’s left
of the heat throughout the rest of the house floats
to the top. Dad shows in his red pickup. In the back
are meat hooks and long lays of chicken and beef and pork.
Through the door, Dad animates in black boots,
an apron and rubber gloves. Before long, his frozen cast
of meats hangs above us. He puts a pot of water to boil
on the stove and looks after us. Perhaps he’s lonely.
As the door to Mom’s room cracks, the meat starts
to thaw. Flies gather. The hooks and meat sway
in the air above us and drip, and soften shape,
and sometimes fall on us from the ceiling.
We’re covered in blood, dead meats and their juices
with our dad, and we settle in well to this routine
by the time the water boils, he’s gone again.
He became our only sister. Maybe he took too much
to making Mom happy. Too much disappointment
to knowing what would but couldn’t make her happy.
Back when Mom thought he would be her last baby,
she told him she’d always hoped her last would be a girl.
That sometimes she thought he was her girl, just born
with the wrong parts. Still, as our brother, Theo
spoke out to us, said, “Sometimes when I gather the skin
over my pecs and pull it toward the center of my chest,
I’m convinced I have real cleavage. I could be like the girls.
In the coming years my hair could fall thick, the darkest
brown curls, or I could straighten them and be beautiful.”
He already had the eyelashes. We understood. We were sorry.
We were sad. It was when Theo started talking like this
that we hid him from our dad, pitched him as one of the girls
from down the street when he’d come in intermittently
from long stretches in the open elsewhere. It was easy
making him believe us. It was hard seeing him struggle
to list us all in conversation, to look us straight-faced
and forget our names, call us the convenient wild things.
How insignificant it must feel to have had us when we walk
in miniature around him and he not know us, when we bunch
in Mom’s bosom, the spread of all her ambitions hidden
Our Sister Theo
Theo grew his hair down to his ankles. He’d have ground
his jaw down smooth if he could. Where his arms and legs
were hard, he’d lather cream to soften and make them
glisten. Where his body swung at sharp angles, he’d make
arcs to round them, and where his voice fell low, he raised it,
but never to the kind of high he needed. His body
only changed short of the thing it was becoming.
When is it that for another one becomes willing to change
everything? And what of the former left sitting dark
in that cold damp cellar, in that puddle of still water,
dirt grown up its skin, stuck to the wall by shackles around its ankles
with the swipe of waste around its mouth to taint
what small nutrient was last given to it? What of how it cranes
its head to stare as if to ask how exactly has it been made
to feel sorry? And why?
Dustin Pearson is the author of Millennial Roost, forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in 2018. He earned his MFA at Arizona State University, where he also served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. His manuscript, The Wilting Tree, was a finalist for the 2017 Anhinga Press-Robert Dana Prize and the 2017 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize. He was awarded the 2015 Katharine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets for his poem “The Black Body Auditions for a Play.” More of his work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, The Spectacle, decomP, Saranac Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Vinyl Poetry, Public Pool, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Watering Hole, Cave Canem, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, South Carolina.