A Tendency Toward Violence
By Destiny O. Birdsong
Glue the slivers of your great-grandfather’s skull
back together with spit. You might have to hold it
in place until it sets, but first, pick the brain
matter blowback from his wife’s nightdress,
and poke it back through the holes. You once told
her you’d be a doctor, a lawyer, someone
better at filling the family’s gaps. You lied.
You’re grown now, and you still can’t figure out
where all the pieces go. See if you can’t find
the bullet, which might not have been
in his head at all. (No one tells this story,
and, according to your bourgie cousin, neither
should you.) It might have ambled to the surface;
feel for bumps on his skin, check the roof of his mouth
under the composite bridge if there is one. When
you asked your mother Was he a womanizer? A cheat? Just bad?
she said no, but you have both wrapped
your legs around disasters and called them gods.
Prop him up: palms on his knees in the old chair.
Leave his butter cookies under the cushion
so when a younger you comes sugartoothed and begging,
they’re waiting like yellow, crisp commas. Unlight
the match. Let the mattress cool to a white pill.
Remove the matchbook from his wife’s hands;
remove her from the room—give him a little
peace. Or you can leave her there, just make her
good. Harvest a bit of bone from her sternum
to let the devils free so that, later,
when your youngest uncle pins you down
for being sassy, for stealing the remote
—for being seven—and demands
you name the legions that left the great-
grandmother to enter you, his mouth
gapes like a grouper, with nothing to say.
Disappear the tools from both their hands.
You are bigger than the story of being pinned.
In the ancestral yard, gather the dingy chickens
and Butch with his golden withers, who is chasing the cat
that same uncle plucked eyeless with a clothes hanger.
Gather the sisters in the other house, too, naked
and soapy in the steel tub. Seal them in wax,
so that no one who ever touches them can leave
a trace. And the mother, wrangling their hair
with bergamot and water, with the pig-
colored brush and its stout bristles—seal the hole
blown through her chest when the father left.
Which father? Any father. Take your pick.
Which hole? Every hole she hides with blouses
and the printed scarves she shouts loose in church.
Make all fathers inconsequential except one,
for whom you will pinch a crease into a pair
of trousers and walk him from one house to another,
maybe carrying the cookies as a gift; maybe carrying
milk from the dairy where the white owner told him
he shouldn’t have more children; where he probably
said nothing, just dipped the cow’s udder
into a pan of chlorinated water, the premonition
of his wife’s homicidal want as acrid as the dung
curdling the air. Now he is coming
to live with the daughters’ daughters—the speckled line
that slipped through just before the culling. And even though
you didn’t know him well enough to know
what he might do once he arrives,
such ignorance has never stopped you before.