By the Rivers of Babylon
The father of a boy my son plays basketball with
overdosed last week. Out of prison less than two days, he slid
the needle into that place where he wanted to feel something
like God and pushed the plunger of the syringe. The boy isn’t any good
at sports, but when the coach subs him late in the game, score
already settled, we cheer wildly, as if he’s performed a miracle,
when he makes a layup or snares a rebound. Heroin is sold
in narrow spaces between row houses in the first few blocks
that rise from the railroad tracks and train shops. This part of town
had crumbled to gravel and ash. The boy lives with his grandmother
in a curtained white house near the cathedral. His mother,
who lost custody when he was five, is back in jail for possession.
At the funeral, my son and his friends pat the boy on the shoulder,
mumble they’re sorry after the mass, then usher him to the pizza shop
where they eat as many slices as their stomachs will hold.
In Pennsylvania, if you keep your eyes on the horizon,
the mountains look heavenly. The white lines that snake
through the gaps in winter become streams that hold
the most delicate fish. As the snowpack melts,
there’s more water than we know what to do with,
all of it rushing toward the valley and the muddy river
whose banks keep washing away.
from Winterkill (Michigan State University Press, 2016)
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