The North Country wind blows through the yard
as you lace up my gloves, then your gloves.
Time to teach you how to be a man. Your breath
stinks of whiskey, Chesterfields. You got soft
after Ma died. Need to learn that everyone takes a beating
but it takes a man to give a beating back.
You swing hard against my jaw, knocking me on my back.
You pick me up by the wrist from the yard,
brushing grass from my hair. I whimper like a beaten
cur. Don’t cry. You wipe tears away with your glove,
color of oxblood, leather cracked and soft
against my cheek. Take a knee, take a breath,
get back up and keep swinging. You say, between breaths,
that I shouldn’t get used to people helping me back
up. Not the way the world works. The ground is soft
beneath my feet, damp from the melting snow in the yard.
It squishes, the same sound my nose makes as your glove
connects with it. When the world gives you a beating
does it hurt this much, Papa? You’ve been beaten
around your whole life. It’s worse. The next blow’s a breath
of violence, exhaled from your lungs, through your gloves
into my chest. But I’m swinging now, swinging back
at you. Smiling, you dance backwards across the yard
letting my fragile blows, a child’s blows, fall softly
upon your chest, your stomach. That’s it, you say in soft
tones. Encourage me, Papa. Teach me to beat life, to beat
the world. We leave muddy footprints across the yard
as we box; you box for Ma’s last desperate breaths,
I box for the hope that one day she’ll come back.
Seems we box forever, until the blood stops, until the gloves
fill with sweat, until we can’t punch anymore. Your hand, gloved
in blood that sweats from split knuckles, dangles softly
against your leg. Let me hold your hand, Papa, let me rub your back
and tell you that it’ll be okay. Papa, I’m tired of the beatings.
You say you are too. The wind from the north blows again, a breath
that chills both of us as we sway like dying trees in the yard.
Our hearts beat together. Breathlessly anchored by grief,
we throw our gloves over our shoulders, against our backs.
The wind blows strong, howling, then blows softly, whispering.