After the Storm (Columbus Day, 1962)

After the storm, my brother
(all gangly knees and elbows)
bore the brunt of its ferocious aftermath.

Every day after school
I watched his wiry biceps bulge a little
as his handsaw scritched against the tree
which had fallen diagonally across our front yard.

I witnessed the violence of metal on wood,
the violence of The King of the Mountain’s smirk
as he too watched, his greedy eyes
taking in my brother’s razor sharp collar bone,
with jaw set in furious concentration.

This imposed punishment was meant to goad my brother,
meant to tempt him to rage
so that the next time the stepdad slugged him
he would feel justified, holy even.

Kneeling on scratchy couch to watch
I scrunched my shoulders,
Folding into myself like an accordion,
gathering myself up to make of me something smaller;

I pressed my knees together
wrapping my arms around them
and lowered my head,
waiting for the sky to rain trees
with swollen trunks, and branches thrust downward
as if warding off a sickening impact with earth.

My brother, it seems,
must be punished for the crime of
his existence;

for this the stepdad’s eyes shone bright,
bright as the heavy duty flashlights
he begrudgingly loaned my brother
so he could work far into the night.

His eyes fairly burned with lust—
The lust of sadism’s glee.
I saw him lick his lips;
You’d have thought he’d conjured up this
Columbus Day Storm all by himself
for the sole purpose
of proving to my brother
that he had no right
to co-exist with him in the same universe.

I watched until my eyes burned
and my head ached dully
and my brother, sweating and chilled,
laid down his saw
swiped his arm across his forehead,
and straightening up, met my wary gaze
with the scoured look
of shame whittled down into hatred,
sawn away into stumpy pieces like an old tree trunk.

After the storm my brother cleaned up nature’s wrath.
He stood a little taller and his eyes, when they met his abuser’s,
burned unflinching.

After the storm we feigned memory loss
Pretended that nothing had shifted in our family dynamic.
We sat down to meals silent and repressed and picked up our forks
as if the stepdad hadn’t just won a major battle,
as if my brother’s days in that household were not numbered.

After the Storm (Columbus Day, 1962)

Debra Rhodes

Happy Valley, United States

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Artist's Description

This poem describes what it was like growing up in a dysfunctional home in the sixties.

Artwork Comments

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