William James

working class poetry // punk rock performance

KNEESKINNER

for childhood

My folks thought television
was where the devil lived, 
so we didn't have one in our home. In school, 
classmates made fun, said I didn't know
what I was missing, but come summer time, 

Missy & I rode our bikes to Red & White
with quarters in our pockets. A nickel
bought three Cow's Tales. I bought peach rings, 
mostly,  except on days my bicycle was a horse – 
that meant I was a cowboy, so I'd spend
my whole allowance on Big League Chew
& cartons of candy cigarettes. I thought
that's what a cowboy should buy. 

Our house was at the bottom of a steep hill. 
I thought it was a mountain. The first day
I rode my bike the whole way to the top, 
I threw my handlebars in the dirt, 
raised both arms the whole way to Heaven, 
& yelled with all the might my lungs could muster: 

    I MADE IT!! Now I'm going home. 

Joey Beichner broke my nose three times: 
once playing King of the Hill, backwards, 
a second with a forward pass. The third, 
we were full up with soda pop
at seven in the morning & I learned
snow shovels are not meant to be used for sport. 

I found my first stash of porn hidden
in a rusting ghost of a boxcar that was dying
in the woods. Rachel ratted me out to my mama
because I wouldn't kiss her. I lost
every game of Spin the Bottle
we ever played         on purpose. 

One afternoon I watched a porcupine
try to spike its defenses against a truck
& lose. When I got close enough, 
I saw it wasn't dead yet, so I tried
to fix it with a stick. He looked so sad, 
so lonesome as he went to sleep. I came home, 
told my dad I was crying
cause I'd skinned my knee. 

The first scar I ever got was on my chin, 
tryin' to shave just like my dad. Told my classmates
I got it fighting dragons. They laughed at me, 
but I knew there was a dragon hidden
in the field behind our house. No one could see it, 
because it made itself look like a tree. 

The second scar was on the smallest toe
of my right foot. While Dad slept on the sofa, 
Missy & I poured cooking oil on the linoleum
kitchen floor, turned the whole room
into a skating rink. I fell down, 
kicked my feet across the register, 
it bit into my little toe so deeply
I thought there was a cave
hiding inside my body. I waited
for bats to fly out of it. 

All I ever saw was blood. 

I've only ever been in one fistfight
my whole life. There was a boy
who wanted to kiss my sister, 
so he tied her shoelaces to a tree branch
with her still in them. A squirrel lay dead
under that same tree. He poked
its belly with a stick until something
like strawberry jam came out, 
then he wiped it on my sister's shin. 

In her defense, I threw a rock at him & missed. 
He threw a fist at me & didn't.     But
my sister's shoelaces came loose & she had
enough time to run away; I came home, 
told my dad I was only crying
because I'd skinned my knee. 

In my hometown, at the top of the tallest hill, 
there's a cemetery full of people whose names
& stories are both forgotten. If you listen carefully, 
some nights, when the sun has started to hide
behind the trees, you can hear their quiet whisper in the wind: 

        We made it...now, we're going home.

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