We did not emerge from a sea infused with sugar,
which, though it cannot explain man's want of a tail,
elucidates somewhat on the propensity for cruelty.

I think often of the day that my father raised his fist
to me and I took a belt to him: how easy it was
to wrestle back the arms I'd long been afraid of,

how easy to bring the leather strap down even and hard.
But this may not even be a memory; rather, I mean
my father may have been dead long before

I finally imagined the violence he'd done to me
or the violence I'd have done back to him.
It was a hot day and we both had been drinking.

The belt snapped loudly as it came down on his skin,
damp with sweat. I beat him until two strays
wandered into the garage, sniffing at the oil stains.

In early dark, he caught a lightning bug in an empty,
fished it out and admired it, then squashed the bug
between his fingers and smeared the glowing jelly

religiously across the back of his hand, into a fine circle.
I slapped at a mosquito sucking just above my spine,
and it startled him, and I saw the circle spin and rise.

That glowing circle, spun in the nascent black
in a moment of self-defense, was the last thing I expected,
the last thing I remembered when I buried him.

We retreated from the sun to the garage sometimes
and drank beer, and occasionally we argued.
He did not talk about his childhood around horses,

and I did not talk about my childhood around engines,
but we sometimes mentioned going to the races.
The lights clapped on at the baseball stadium,

or a locomotive rumbled along aimless rails
and we listened for the rumble rushing between the houses.
The salt pushed its way out of our pores, and stung.

The two stray cats rambled into the garage, and my father,
who once cursed me for wanting to keep a one-eyed kitten,
opened a can of tuna. While they devoured, he asked them

if they weren't the sweetest things in the world.
Or we never had a garage, and the lit circle in the dark
is not my father's hand balled in a fist, rising,

is not the instinct for self-preservation, spun,
is nothing more than the brilliant ring remaining
after staring, too long unprotected, at an eclipse,

or the halo formed when light meets water
while we rise, protozoic and dripping, from another sea.
Or we tired early that night, and went to bed before dark.

Ross White is the editor of Inch, a magazine of short poetry and microfiction, and the publisher of Bull City Press ( His work has appeared on Poetry Daily and in Tar River Poetry, Carolina Quarterly, and New England Review, among others. Ross is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761