April 18, 2007
Jim Daniels: “M-80”
ROBERT KENNEDY SHOT. Early June
my mother prayed the rosary
in front of the hollow crucifix in her room
that slid open to reveal death candles
hidden for last rites’ blessing.
They’d get used soon enough.
She prayed a long time. My father
wanted dinner. We ate mac and cheese.
Wipe your mouth
you’ve got that orange stuff all over it.
You’re a big boy now–try to eat right.
A day when everything stuck to my face,
my 12th birthday. Postponed,
my mother whispered through tears.
Bobby. Bobby Kennedy, Debbie said,
balancing on the curb. She wore
a white blouse, shirttail out over cutoffs.
She drew a blue heart on her tennis shoe.
I wanted to fill it in.
What could we do
in the gray light of clouds
and broken glass, the stale wads
of gum clutching our teeth?
It was after a rain and we rode through puddles
it was a banana-seat stingray
it was one speed and one speed only.
She rode behind me on the seat
her thin legs swaying just above the ground.
We bought Twinkies and Orange Crushes,
I said I have an orange crush on you.
My birthday got rained out, I told her.
Assassinated. Our laughs short,
hollow. Why does everybody
hate everybody? Debbie asked.
Her parents had just split.
I don’t hate you, I said.
Look at you, she said and put down
her Crush, licked the cream around my lips.
An M-80 went off in my chest–at least
it seemed that way. I’d bought five of them
from Artie Pilkowski, saving them for the 4th.
But I would use one soon enough
to blow up a mailbox–I was not immune.
Artie lost part of his hand that summer,
another of those hard-way lessons
we kept hearing about.
Behind the store we held each other and kissed
birthday kisses even after it was dark
even after it rained some more.
I kicked up my kickstand and rode her home
under the blue streetlights. She held on
tighter than I’ve ever been held.
My brother stood on the corner
smoking with his friends.
Junior’s got a girlfriend, they said.
We were fierce and serious as I pedaled past.
My mother was praying again, and the TV was off.
I knelt beside her, my elbows sinking
into the soft bed, offering up
my small explosions.
–Jim Daniels, 1993