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The Lives of Boys

The Lives of Boys

Your lives have no end, we were told, because
   they’ve not yet started, our names the blank expanse
between birthdates and extinctions that papered
our classroom wall: Chris Clausen who wrapped
      his hands in gauze for weeks after closing them
   around the bright blue spiral of a blackjack

or Sam Smith who snuck warm, off-white cans
   of Olympia Beer from his father’s stash,
answering anyone who called him a drunkard
with his fists, and Satyr Grimes and Edward
      and Tim, his brothers, who lit a spare Goodyear
   on fire behind the closed doors

of the Shell service station, lucky to return
   from St. Thomas a few months later— ears gnarled
to dog’s chew toys; strange interruptions
in their speech.  But it was I who first vaulted
      the sagged chainlink that barred the way
   onto Old White Bridge, ignored the signs of NO

TRESPASSING, tired of leaping stone
   to stone across Richland Creek.  Picking our way
between unpatched cracks in the macadam,
it no longer mattered what movies spun
      on their reels at the Lion’s Head or what candies
   we’d select from the concession stand’s poor-box

of light, only the trail we blazed below the thrum
   of traffic east and west in the shadow of the new bridge,
the tang of vomit and whiskey drifting up
with the snap of rapids from the creek below
      where we skipped rocks across the backs of bluegill
   and called out in response to the rusty incantations

of grackles.  It was only a matter of time
   until Chris ventured out onto the two-by-four
that bridged the gap in the eastbound lane.  One by one,
          we tested ourselves, board warping back
      and forth, the world seemingly gone quiet
   as we held our arms out for balance— Old
White Bridge yet another threshold our mothers bade

   do not cross though our fathers knew we would anyway.  
And it was Sam who was first to break, concerned,
            he claimed, our flirtations with chance
      would make us late.  So we punched him hard
   in the shoulder for flinching the two mile trek

to the theater and all throughout the movie,
   drinking noisily from our sodas and ignoring
the turned heads of shooshes until Sharon Stone
uncrossed her legs and silenced us all.  
       Not a one of us knew what we’d witnessed,
   on our way there or somewhere below

that projector’s ray of flickering frames.  
   At any moment, Old White Bridge could have flung us
into that darkness where no one could make out
our row of open-mouths—
      nothing quite like the heat that simmers up
   around the lives of boys, the red world extant

behind the eager, unblinking eye.

The Spoon River Poetry Review, Fall 2010

Check out The Spoon River Poetry Review at Litline.org