By Sean Karns

1. Tire Swing

He hacks at the thicket, grabs hold
of the blackberry canes,
bloodies his hands;
blackens them with juices.
He looks at his hands,
sees labor: a future in tearing
down. There are children swinging
on a swinging tire. He wants to join them.
He feels a stare; his father sits
on the porch; it’s mid-day and hot.
The yard is dry grass and dirt.
He feels the thorny sting
to take away
what is in the house
that keeps him hacking.
There’s a silk scarf
his mother left under his pillow.
The tire swing creaks.
A swing that creaks
like a deranged mosquito
singing in his ear.
They swing, seeing
how far the lake.
He rubs the blackness
from his hands,
looks at the house, its tilted porch
and chipped paint.
The dark tree-line
and forgetting the clink
of the doorknob.

2. Woods

He goes farther into the woods;
his father stares—
faces in the bark of every tree.
He wants to drop a match
on the everywhere leaves.
And then the twisting
of the bronze door knob.
He hides his face with the scarf
from the footsteps and the black
polished boots under the bed.
He gathers the sturdiest tree
limbs he can pull
with his thirteen years of strength.
With a hatchet, he cuts the limbs
into logs and hammers
them around a tree.
He stole rope
from his father’s work-shed.

3. Fortress

He peeks out of the hollow
of the oak tree.
He slips on the dewy ground.
His father’s dream-weight
pushes down on him. He swipes the mud
from his lips. The insects
sound like the twist
of a door knob. So do the branches
falling. He throws
the rope over the tree limb,
dollies up his scarf, hatchet and hammer.
There’s no higher place
for him to throw his rope.


(“Cutting Down the Property Line” previously appeared in Mayday Magazine and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)

Sean Karns’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cold Mountain Review, Folio, Los Angeles Review, Ninth Letter, Mayday Magazine, Pleiades, and elsewhere.

Editor’s Note: There is a weight to the aural nature of the words in today’s piece that alludes to a corresponding heaviness of subject matter. A narrative poem, the story is not neatly laid out for the reader, but instead consonants become palpable, and the story oozes from the language, thick like syrup forcibly drained from a tree deep in the woods.

Want more by and about Sean Karns?
Mayday Magazine (1)
Mayday Magazine (3)
Sean Karns reads his poem “A Rural Weekend”

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