Michelle Kum, 1st grade hellcat,
a knit hat and furry coat,
Dressed like a shopping cart refugee
shrunk down with nose freckles.
The only 1st grader I recall
saying the word “fuck.”
The rest of us
didn’t even know what
the word “fuck” meant
until at least 6th grade.
It was the mid-to-late 1970s,
and a Catholic school.
She was vicious at “king of the hill.”
Steep snow banks, coated with
thaw ice. Her snowmobile boots, small
curled fists, head-butts, limbs like windmill
blades churning bloodied noses and lips.
Our childhood games
were particularly violent.
More than once I
slouched to class after recess,
her snow boot tread
on the side of my face.
We were all unbreakable
when we were small.
I must’ve complained to my Dad about Michelle.
We were in the living room with
The Beatles on the stereo, me playing
on the floor. As Paul McCartney
sang in awkward French, my Dad said, grinning,
“Hey Troy, he’s singing
about your girlfriend.”
Through Locks and Windows
For James Berlin
I recall you like traces of smoke
Before my mother’s eleven year absence,
A Christmas tree and werewolf headdress,
Coffee cans filled with water,
Held like hostages
Behind heater grates in winter.
I stand beside the woman you helped
Give life to, in this room where your bed
Is flush with floor, a gymnasium mat should you fall.
You fight for oxygen, magazine pictures of deer
And forests taped to the wall.
You should have lived better.
Your life could have been tremendous,
Still flotsam and jetsam has lent
Birth match spark miracles,
Little girls soon grown to women, grandchildren
Given to a Kodachrome snapshot parade.
Fists, empty bottles, overturned Christmas trees
Grocery money spent sending barkeeps’ children
Through college. You are not perfect, but you
Are family. Your life
Could have been tremendous.
Your favorite story of me,
We were locked out of your house.
Grandfather I do not care if you were sober,
You spoke of pushing me through
A basement window.
I walked the basement stairs,
I walked through the living room,
I somehow opened
The door for us all.
Like everything about our
Mixture of blood,
It was never enough to combine us.
—Troy Schoultz, Marshfield, WI