Think of a House
by Okla Elliott
By day it looks like a bad painting,
pure kitsch—the sky-blue backdrop,
green tobacco swaying in the field,
two dogwoods in bloom at each end.
It is summer now,
but if you were the son who lives in this house,
you would remember last winter
when the cedar fenceposts wore skullcaps
of snow, and the yard was punctuated
with three-footed rabbit tracks.
The father doesn’t drink, but he used to.
The mother isn’t happy, but she was
and wonders if she will be again.
One daughter is smart, the other pretty,
and both believe the pretty one will always win.
The son, who is the youngest, thirteen,
memorizes verses from the Book of Isaiah
—enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust—
and listens in the woods
for what he calls God’s yodel. If he hears it,
he has no idea what he’ll do.
A story about the family might prove helpful:
Once there were pork chops and gravy and sweet corn.
The son ran through the kitchen,
and the smart daughter, who was also mean
with the curiosity of smart girls, tipped the pot
of boiling water onto him.
It was called an accident, but the son knew.
He glared at the smart daughter as he chewed,
pressing the icepack his father gave him
against his scalded arm.
Another: When the pretty daughter was fourteen,
she sat in the father’s lap, but he told her to get down.
She hadn’t felt his erection, and so was confused
and hurt. (And what’s worse,
the father hasn’t so much as hugged
his pretty daughter since.)
The mother had always favored the smart daughter
while the father favored the pretty one,
but after that day,
the pretty daughter was on her own.
Let’s look at the house at nighttime.
Insects do their insect business.
The dogwoods blossom a ghostly gray.
The blue curtains make the windows glow blue.
We hear the murmur and see the flicker.
We see shadow-figures going room to room.
Let’s make it a clear night, the sky bursting
with white pinpricks.
And there’s the son, coming out on the porch
to piss, tired of waiting on his mother
who has been in the shower for over an hour.
He looks across the field
to the neighbors’ house and says,
as though everyone in the world should hear him,
Therefore with joy shall ye draw forth water from the wells.
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