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The snapshot shows three white-toothed grins,

sunburned cheeks and noses. My brothers

and I pose in front of a giant Reese’s Peanut


Butter Cup at Hershey Park. The picture doesn’t

show the banter that turns wicked until scales

cover our skin, sharpen our teeth, and then


transform our teases into the powerful burn

of dragons’ breath. We spit fire at each other

until we return to the dirty motel room to sit


in silence. There’s no photo of that part.

That’s not the shot my father set up. Fights

continue at home and flames shoot to the ceiling


from French fry oil that boiled too hot. My mother

throws a pot of water, but the inferno only spreads

to the rest of the kitchen. We breathe noxious


remnants for months and wipe grease, soot,

and goop that clings to the walls, ceiling, and wood.



In fourth grade, my mother signs me up

for swim lessons at the YMCA. Though

I imagine myself a mermaid or torpedo,

master of watery depths, I swim like a Guppy,


or so the teacher thought when she

consigns me to that group. I manage to cross

the entire pool once, secure

a promotion to Minnow,

but dream of Flying

Fish, Sharks and Porpoises, the expert groups.


On dry land, the doctor would say swimmer’s ear

after his frequent visits to our house. He’d tell

me to lay the hurt ear on my pillow.

I swallow pills with water from the tap.


This is before water

filters, before the postman delivers the required

water chemistry analysis,


a list of contaminants so long

it’s alphabetized:

arsenic, bromide, chloride, chromium,

cylindrospermopsin, endrin, fluoride, formaldehyde,

lead, mercury, potassium, selenium,


and dozens more multi-syllabic names

that slide down the hatch slippery as fish.



My father builds a square frame

from wood scraps and nails

a sheet of metal mesh to it.

We dig up the backyard, sift rocks

from dirt to prepare vegetable beds.


Hands in soil we can’t see the future


graves or know which of our names

will be called back early: Mom, 60,

Jeff, 19, David, 17. The photos from those

summers show us dwarfed

beside the plants and later reveal


plants dwarfed by us. The tomatoes

come out gigantic juicy and too perfect.

This was before the word organic

came to common use, before

we knew animals were fed antibiotics


and growth hormones, before

we knew chickens ate the same

tainted produce we did. We water

and weed. My father sprays

repellants and dusts with insecticides.



You’ll be sorry one day when I’m gone.

I launch this dagger through the air


at my mother while I, alone in my room,

silence my sassy mouth and try my best


to break into her nightmares to paint

a picture of her future without me. I draw

her doubled over in grief, my two brothers

and dad beside her. Between whimpers

and sobs, their gazes latch onto the most

recent sixth grade portrait of me that they’ve placed


on top of a hand-made doily in the center

of the new coffee table. I devise death scenes.


One: A plane smashes into our house

but pulverizes only my room with me in it.


Two: One of Agatha Christie’s scoundrels

leaps out of my book and chokes me.


Three: I’m home alone and smoke seeps

under my door; I’m trapped as a wall of fire


closes around me. I’m too young and it’s

too soon to imagine other credible threats:

crop dust, radon, electromagnetic fields, anthrax.

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