A telephone splices the night—lit nerve ending
or lightning strike—and the child rises all lung, all mouth
and howl. The man rises from inside the mother, rises
from the casts of his fingers clutched into the sheets
and separates the boy’s head from his chest.
He runs, knife in hand, body in arms, floor to floor,
beating on doors as the thin limbs jog at his sides.
He palms the boy’s head, guides the jaw back
to the neck, but blood leaks and blacks
his bared chest in the stills taken later that night.
The state assigns my father to the defense. He twists
the tinny, stripped facts into a cast outlining a life.
He tells the jury the man grew up a thing burnt
by his grandfather, his mother, that his thin body smoked
and scabbed taut. And then the foster homes and the beatings
and the drugs and the howl and the boy and the knife.
The state threads a new heart into the man’s chest.
He is kept living. He is sentenced to death. Nights on trial,
my father walks the floor with my infant brother, crouped up
and wailing the mucus out of his lungs, his mouth with a howl.
My mother sleeps, buried tight as a drawered knife,
gleaming through what beauty her children had left.