When I heard that Billy the Kid was dead, had been for some time, I was concerned because last I’d checked he was still kicking, living next door to me. The neighborhood watch wasn’t happy with him. They had noticed the coyotes creeping in at his lawn’s edge. At midday the grass withered to brown; a distant bell tolled. Walking by his ancient stable, one could hear the blooded stallions, a clatter of hooves, could feel humid breath on the back of the neck. Nighttimes I heard gunshots, had complained to the police on more than one occasion. Billy came by the house one night not long ago, pounded on the back door until I stumbled over, just out of bed, groggy from a dream about the ocean. I opened the door; he lunged at me. I thought it was a knife in his hand at first, or a flounder, but realized after he collapsed, sobbing, that it was a tulip. He had been drinking. Confessed to me how terrified he was of becoming a sunset cowboy. When I heard he was dead I went to check. Where I remembered his house there was now a desert. I pricked myself on a cactus; a tumbleweed trailed past; a half-buried skeleton of a bison caught the wind, low-moaned through its eye sockets.
My Father: After Lightning
My father liked to tell me about the time he was struck by lightning and his body split into halves down the middle. Finally he saw himself without a mirror, experienced first hand the bent of his lips, the troubled quiver in his hand and eye, laid fingertips gingerly upon his half ’s cheek. He was vulnerable, opened intimate. He could see the cavity where his heart had once rested. He took a pinecone, filled the gaping hole. He began replacing the other organs: a stone for his liver, cicada shells for kidneys. He removed his tear ducts completely. He discarded his finger- and toenails. He discovered a flaking vellum scroll tucked around his spine, upon which all of his truths were written; let the wind breath life back into crumbling paper. He took out his mind, scrubbed it clean of memory in the river—lost hold of it in the flow of the river—sculpted one anew from the river’s loam. He told me how arduous it was to pull himself back together, to seal the wound, because it meant he would never again be able to know himself, always a broken whole.
The Boy Made of Mud
My grandmother told me he had been murdered by his father, a man given to bouts of paranoia, terrified his son was bedeviled because he could read poetry by the time he was six, enjoyed reciting lines of Eliot, how “April is the cruellest month.” The father had drowned his son in the river. My parents told me to disregard the mad ranting of my grandmother, but also to stay away from the boy. I didn’t listen, a child like all children, but instead started bringing the boy books of verse. Sometimes I would see him standing by the river—sometimes he wouldn’t be there. We were friends, or were at least as close as a boy of flesh and a boy of mud could be. I read him parts of Whitman, and he recited Ovid and Langston Hughes from memory, until one day I went down to the river after a spring rain and found only a mud puddle and a soggy page of Keats. My parents told me to stop concerning myself with trivialities; handed me a dense volume of collected instruction manuals and escapist prose.
Ode to a Star-Eyed Beauty
O, cherubic lubadub; you runamuck boy, framed up by a pale plate-glass dawn, window cut— all night-tame & rough-tussled; elegant & coy.
Last night, slackjawed by your hips, your halogen joy, I watched you dance slipstreamed & sideways: sweet-ass strut of a cherub, a heartthrob, a runamuck boy.
& this sorry sucker so luststruck, fawned (the ploy of he besot with loinsfire & a wet dream’s rut: a night-time of tussling rough—elysian, uncoy),
lazyeyed, bought you booze. These punch-drunk hands toyed at your knuckles, your fingertips—this sauced fool stuck on you, cherubic lubadub, runamuck boy.
—O sweet desire, you streetweaved back with me, buoyed on my shoulder, lips dripping syrup notes. I cupped you: hair all night-tame & rough-tussled, smiling coy.
Snuck upstairs, past sleeping ears & dark, to enjoy a moment enraptured beneath dusk’s bedclothes, tucked all night-tame & rough-tussled, elegant & coy, me & this star-eyed beauty, my runamuck boy.
-- Matthew Ostapchuk is a graduate of Chester College of New England, and is currently pursuing his MFA at Hollins University. His work has also appeared or is upcoming in Insolent Aardvark, Interrobang!?Magazine, Specter Literary Magazine, and Best New Poets 2010, among others.