Selections from Wild Asparagus, a series of autobiographical narratives, appeared in the first issue of Stray Dog, a literary journal. The complete text will be published in Marco North's upcoming book, Papa on the Moon.
They are silent, crawling down the walls. They are smothering him inside his pajamas. Lightning cracks silver. Blue green hides flicker in the darkness. Little brother sleeps under blue eyes, a tiny o at his lips, whispering his sleep dreams of fresh cut grass and bubbles, of seashells and broken shoelaces.
Thunder lifts the curtains. Hot raindrops spatter the windows. They ooze long lines through the monsters. The rain dissects them, drawing them into the corners. Henry bites his lip. Thunder crashes. The dogs are barking. The shadows are not scared. The taste of thin blood on his tongue. A wet piece of gum stuck in his hair. A record playing, skipping -
Where are the lovely straw-berr-ies?
He rushes outside, The leaves are down. The world is a lopsided color wheel. He fills his pockets with red ones. He rushes through piles, his cowboy boots kicking them high into the air. The moist scent of toads and mudpies tickle his nose.
He climbs to the top of an Evergreen. Its sap runs into his eyebrows and covers his palms. They turn gray and sticky with bark.
A little red plastic cowboy is tied to a branch with white thread.
The wild-eyed boy is digging under the bare stalks of a blackberry bush. Their limbs swat his face as he spoons the dirt into a neat pile.
He pulls the red plastic man from the back pocket of his Toughskins. The cowboy is buried in a shallow grave. He carefully refills the hole, pressing the mound with his palms. He sits on it, rocking back and forth.
He hides a spoon in the chicken coop, between the corner of the wall and the last nest. The hens roll their eyes, clucking to each other.
The wild-eyed boy runs out to the road and starts laughing.
He slaps his knees.
He sits in the garden, watching the tiny clouds of his breath.
After recess, the sleds were rolled up and returned to their shelves under the stairs. The red ones were cracking, unfurling in uneven rolls. The blue ones were new this year. They did not seem to move.
The children pulled their jackets off over their heads where they got stuck. They wandered around in a fleece darkness, mumbling.
Henry came in last, staring at the fluorescent lights in the dark hallway. His eyes wobbled inside their sockets. Green flares bloomed through his heavy eyelashes. He did not blink, as the world became neon, as children without heads under jacket torsos moved in slow motion, as giant teachers pulled sweaters down, as bright blue boots looked black in the murk of the hall.
The shirts were tucked in. The coats hung in cubbies.
The slush covered boots dripped in a row as sneakers were tied with bunny ears around bunny ears.
Henry could not move.
I am digging a tunnel in the snow with my pinky. I am building a miniature playground for the field mice. They will play here in the middle of the night. Under the microscope of my thumb I build a tiny igloo, a slide, a drive-in movie show.
And we can run around naked
in a summer storm.
Mom makes us wear cut-offs,
but we take them off under the splintery picnic table.
We race from the swing
to the barn,
the green grass hiding dollops
of goose shit
that will disappear from between our toes
I shiver in the afternoon air,
my heart beating through my thin ribs,
visible to the naked eye.
I want some watermelon.
I spy a wild asparagus.
I am seven.
I want to pull it from the earth
and show it to my father.
In the side porch, under the slanted piles of faded lawn chairs, half complete encyclopedias and a broken bicycle is the piano. The air is cool and never moves. In autumn the squirrels rattle above the ceiling, clicking nuts into a dark niche under the low roof.
Only the black ones for a week. What can I make with the black ones? Ray Charles. I can make a little of him. Only the top keys - a cartoon. A man is peeing on his foot.
Ping. Ping. Ping.
A safe falls on him - hit the open strings with a stick.
I draw hearts on the broken keys with a blue crayon. I spend all afternoon playing the three lowest ones that work.
Wo ho ho! I yell.
Wo ho ho - a lowlo!
I stomp my feet on the pedals. The notes ring a long time. I wait for them to fade away, frozen at my makeshift chair.
Lowlo lowlo. I whisper.
I take a little nap.
In the black lamp of a no mooned night, the chickens were killed in a silent flurry. The headless carcasses were strewn in lopsided circles. Death had come quickly, with autumn’s first frost.
In the morning we poked them with our toes. They rolled easily in the crisp grass, in the lavender hour before eight.
Two nights later, the owl returned.
It swooped down from the oak tree, blurring past the tire swing. The wings went on farther than my eyes could see. They were white, radiant, lighting up the entire backyard.
My father shot it once, twice.
In the morning we found it bleeding, hiding in a crevice under the barn. The field was covered in feathers and droplets of blood.
It was dead by noon.
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