When I was six, living at my grandmother’s house,
other children began to move in.
Randy, his sisters Wendy and Mandy,
a sandy-haired kid from who knows where,
two runaway teenage girls from Nebraska.
I felt like a seasoned factory worker
unaware of any union, secure.
How long would they be here?
We had the woods to run through out back,
the way a rock thrown with torque off rusty tar
barrels sounds like a laser gun.
Popcorn strings festooned along clubhouse walls,
Christmas candles burning in the corners.
The Nebraska girl, (not that one,
the other one,
with the inch-thick cut
on her lip and the corduroy
blouse; the older neighbor kid
who kissed her said she tasted
like Marlboro Menthol and Straw-
berry hill), she taught us how to read
the future with flame, thread and needle.
The hot needle point stung me,
wondered along the lines of my palm
meandering as the highways
the Nebraska girls took off to, away from us,
Away from DCFS. At summer’s end
They traded in the sandy-haired kid for Stanley.
At two he still talked gibberish, bleach-blonde hair
cut like Moe from The Three Stooges,
hopelessly in love with sound of two.
“I’m two!” he’d say. “Hey look Grandma! I’m two!”
He inhaled deeply when he cried,
his face the color of cooked ham when he exhaled.
For the loss of Nebraska, we sought revenge on Stanley.
Grandma would fix us all sandwiches,
place them around the table.
All we had to do was tear ours in half and say,
“Look Stanley, you've only got one! And we've got two!”
When I think of Stanley now I wonder how
the montage of his life plays out for him.
Does he see his parents throwing him down the steps,
blunting him with curling irons, locking him in closets?
When he rises to defend his brothers in the People Nation,
all doing hard time there in Joliet
together for murder, assault and rape,
when he throws down the pitchfork and disrespects the Folk,
can he see the government plates on that Iowa sedan
that took him from my grandmother’s porch when he was eight?
The other night I found a picture of Stanley at fifteen,
same blonde hair, wearing a pale olive T-shirt
with circles of bleach, hugging my grandmother,
smiling, relieved, free from Boy’s Home.
Just before my grandfather took the picture
Stanley’s head leaned slightly inward,
slanting to my grandma’s breast.
I visited that weekend, and I remember how he looked at me.
My grandfather looked away, I shook Stanley’s hand.
His hand squeezed mine firm, without a word the handshake seemed to say
“Everybody here step back away”, it seemed to say. “This is my house.”