When my father broke parole and went back to prison, my face widened
with red pimples of hearsay. For hours, I leaned on the refrigerator door,
tasting rotten food. I slipped in the woods, stropped a buck knife, let go.
No words welled up. I followed dead grass. Its voice carried rancid fish
to rot and return. A boy somewhere remembers gray textures and names:
the local newspaper, my father’s wide face glaring past the ink, white
letters spelling him in sterile luminescence. I finally woke, worked
three years as a butcher, sliced tallow off meat. My father got out,
loud liver ballooning his belly, black hair bowing out his neck like
a dog’s. He’d burned his prison letters. Lost the key to the house.
Words swam on the coffee table with rolls of hundreds. Sing
about the highway boys limping through thorny towns. Sing loud
if you wish to pare in wind these hunks of meat. Chunks of tallow
gleam in the rafters. The road wraps hills tight like tourniquets.
The road crumbles and dies at the baseboard. A hawk dances in the sky.
A boy flings fish hooks at badly-made glass. He is dice and money.
He is pawn and cardinal. He does not know the extent.
He does not know the law. He does not know the woods
keep going past the edge.
Clay Cantrell is from Tennessee and lives and writes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He sometimes does environmental work and enjoys kayaking. He also likes to go camping at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge with his wife, Rachel, and dog, Mimosa.
“Final Cutoff Notice” appeared in TLR Uncle.