Lyric Essays


4th Grade Fragments

Asuncion arrived but we called him Junior. At first I thought he might like to be my friend. He trilled his Rs like softballs rolling in a bin. He broad jumped farther and begged to pitch. He was older. We told him, “Not on our team.” I heard the teachers whisper.

Mrs. Morgan made us read a poem by Robert Frost. The poem spoke of a wall that had a mind of its own. Made things hard for the farmers that lived on each side—a stone wall, with rocks like large balls. She held a thick book flat in her right hand and walked up and down the rows as we each tried to read a couple of lines. Lonnie Mac picked ear wax and rolled it into little balls. He tossed them at me. Mrs. Morgan didn’t see. Susan E. picked at the busted piece of pencil lead buried in the heel of her hand. After I jabbed her I told her she would soon die of lead poisoning.

The concrete basketball courts hid behind the bus barn and the long yellow busses parked outside. The naked shade of Chinese elms and cottonwoods deflected the warmth of the sun. The morning chill nipped my ears. We played two-on-two and missed a lot of baskets. Lonnie Mac was on my side, but Susan E. didn’t come to watch. When we did make one, the ball stuck in the twine net and we had to knock it out with a long, dead cottonwood branch. Asuncion played the best. He made too many baskets and we spent too much time trying to knock the ball loose. When next he drove to the basket, I tackled him and he pounded his fists into my face. They banged hard and clipped at my frozen ears. Mrs. Morgan came and clamped us with her hard hands. She wore black shoes with thick, short heels. She made me sit beneath a table in her office. She locked the basketball in a tall, metal wall locker and patted her hands as if ridding herself of dirt. My ears still hurt.

Subject of My Photograph

The old house at the corner of the reservation road trapped in a cesspool of slippery mud. A couch with all the guts pulled, tipped in the mud driveway. Windows knocked out, the remaining glass like canines in a coyote’s head. Stringy mesquite in a line around the back. Roof shingles slick as black granite.

Not far away, the black macadam of Interstate Ten. Lifeline to a nation. Big trucks snorting gears on the main line from LA to El Paso. The cop cars wink their red and blue eyes.

Once the old home sported a television. A Chevy in front and a pack of feral dogs that probed the boundaries of the civilized. Now, the stove hauled off and the toilet cracked in half. Trapped in my photograph. An instant. A flash. A few aesthetic nano seconds.

Andrea del Sarto

Borges thought the essence of the spiritual, the intemporal, lives outside our ability to articulate. Words are a shoddy substitute. Bread and water for flesh and blood are much finer manifestations of the metaphor than mere conversation and text. Take the host in your mouth, swallow the sip of red wine—experience ecstasy more powerful than any book can illuminate. Taste the flesh of the mango—so seductive when you peel off its raiment, the golden color with a divine kiss of explosive bliss on top of the tongue. Taste too, the unfrosted flesh of the persimmon, how it sours your mouth and draws it tight like the squeeze of a chastity belt—so bitter the taste of alum. The way they hang on the tree, persimmons, pendulous in the misty mornings, their sere nude branches like delicate etchings of monasterial black on gray. Consider the way the slaughtered steer’s carcass hangs from its hook in the cooler. Marbled muscular back and flanks, legs without feet—crucified for the sake of survival, and yes, for taste, rare beef with garlic mashed potatoes. Add in some steamed asparagus, a plate of creamy golden polenta with bacon bits, butter and cheese—melts upon your taste buds—manna, of sorts, but not the kind found in the desert after wandering. Something more existent in the here and now, something elegant, and served on a white plate with delicate gold and blue etchings, approaching the sanctity of man and his art, something allegorical, like a painting by Andrea Del Sarto or Pieter Pawel Rubens—naked cherubs with breasts like ripe wild cherries—or the newborn Christ with skin like fresh cream. Imagine a bone white bowl of wild cherries in crème fraiche, the dense obliging ecstasy of sacrifice reduced to a treat on the tongue.

Early Warfare Training

We mounted our red Schwinns and sheathed our BB guns and rode north to the low spot where the irrigation tailwater ganged in among the cattails. A leaning cottonwood ten feet around marked the target. Red-wing black birds tweedle-deed among the puffs of seeds erupting from the cattails. We popped BBs at the red chevrons on their wings. They rose and settled like marionettes at the county fair. We hunted snakes, frogs, toads, horned toads, blue-bodied dragonflies.

Later, we rode west towards Little Egypt with the water tank on top. We picketed our Schwinns at the bottom and climbed among the granite boulders and found wild bees in a cave. We climbed back down and found a battered and abused cardboard carpet tube. We climbed back among the granite boulders. Crouch had matches. We lit the end of the tube and it smoked like my father watching a football game, smoke curling from his Salem. We harassed the bees like we knew something about bee-keeping, but growing bored, found jack rabbits to shoot at among the boulders strewn at the base of the hill.

On the way home, Crouch shot me twice in the leg. We parted, enemies. Near my house I saw the Joebgen brothers playing baseball in a vacant lot. I shot the fattest one in the ass with a sizzling BB and they attacked me.

I stood firm in the face of danger and Sisson came from his back yard and held the two youngest Joebgens back. I flipped fatty Joebgen around and his mother came out of her back door and scolded me. I mimicked her scolds as Sisson and I laughed.

I went home, but technology trumped spinning tires on a bicycle. My mother waited as the front door, her face screwed up and red, her strawberry-tinted hair a mess. My father sat in his big chair watching a football game, smoking a Salem. He rose and yanked my BB gun and raising it, threatened to bust it over my head like his father had done to him.

I flinched, my heart throbbing like the bobbings of robins in the pyracantha bushes.

My mother intervened and after negotiations that seemed like weeks, I settled for a whipping with father’s thick leather belt.

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