Writer’s Note: On writing these poems, ‘Once We Were Kids’ is based on an actual childhood memory. I wanted to capture the innocence of that time period yet show how the outside world creeps in no matter how safe and loved a child is, /the boy who commented on me liking chocolate ice cream and him liking vanilla the opposite of our skin/. If only as adults those things that haunt us had a simpler explanation or ready explanations the way they did when we were kids.
In ‘Moving Fear of Staying’, I turned the tables showing how home isn’t always safe and a child doesn’t know where they belong – a sense of loss with the wrong kind of love. In that vein, the same could be said of ‘Growl’ based on a true event when someone tried to break into my home one night while I was there. Thankfully, my dog’s warning barks and the porch light getting turned on were a deterrent. Even though in the end I was safe, I was reminded of how vulnerable my deafness left me.
Once We Were Kids
Twilight was every kids favorite hour. Shadows slinked around corners. Houses became dark looming giants eating yards and mailboxes. Telephone poles long arms stretched to greet the other side of the street, crawling over curbs to shake hands with sidewalks. Tree limbs turned our faces into zebras. The neighborhood’s young running wild. Making the most of these last minutes of freedom before doors flung open and our middle names split the air with a mother’s impatience. As soon as the streetlights buzzed and began humming one by one down the street, we gathered for one last game of hide-and-seek. Some of us cheated when the countdown began, went home instead of hiding. We all knew who was afraid of the dark, pretending a parent grabbed them to save face. None of us will ever forget the blood curdling scream from Ms. Crenshaw running toward us, arms flailing like she was trying to put out a fire. Which wouldn’t have surprised anyone the way she waved cigarettes around her hairspray plastered beehive. Ms. Crenshaw wasn’t on fire. Ben the boy who once said something about me liking chocolate ice cream and him liking vanilla the opposite of our skin as if it was a big thing, saw it first. His eyes grew big. He ran so fast, we didn’t know he was gone until the door slammed at his house. The twins who flirted with every boy in sight, ran between houses to the next street over screaming as if they were in a contest to see which one could shriek the loudest. Everyone scattered like marbles. Ms. Crenshaw the shooter marble ready to blast into us. Frozen in place straddling my bike, I couldn’t take my eyes off the bat screeching, trying desperately to free itself from her hair. Wings tangled in a sticky net. My little brother was beside me mouth open trying to catch flies, before I reached over without looking and gently pushed his jaw up. The men in the neighborhood tackled Ms. Crenshaw having spent too many Sundays watching football. She looked like an octopus in the middle of them, all arms and legs, hitting and kicking everyone. Grampa got a black eye before they finally managed to free the bat. We never played hide-and-seek again. A few of us still dared to stay out late. Until that time we thought a rolled-up carpet sticking out of a doorway was a dead woman’s leg. We were fearless kids, immortal till we weren’t.
Moving Fear of Staying
A child cries it’s not fair snot bubbling from her ruddy face Friends are supposed to last forever don’t listen to grown ups And home keeps moving A girl becomes tree roots digging in searching for a safe place to hide Where does a kid bury their heart A room of her own wait she likes this place Too late here is where she shares a bed Here it’s cold and the oven door is always open Here she can’t breathe another school Bully the new kid she’s too quiet watch those fists she’s made of spit and fire Come sit with us watch us eat her stomach growling unfair lucky you Girl unfriended in a sea of ever-changing faces All her addresses are one long never-ending street same state different bed this one is blood stained Which face did she put on for show good boy this lie fits her tomboy figure Forged in hate you’s and leave me alone’s She’s forgotten every name he gave her At home she’s sister daughter temptress Blame the child for what you don’t have a home to call your own while his hands roam The door is wide open letting in all the flies Truck packed with all her lives They left their secrets buried beneath her bed This is it Home They can stay awhile A girl grown wild slips out the back door tears staining her face ruddy Fear is staying in one place Roots curled in on themselves shying away when the door creaks open at night
There’s a moment after day has fallen into the brink of a firestorm sunset, the rest of world gently falls asleep; When sharp hooved mares of wind-torn dreams gallop away with our dark wilding hopes. Does a night like this have the same name as a stranger turning the knob of a door, on a porch where he doesn’t belong? Does it sound like the shrill bark of dogs? When the warning sounds, which one of us rides our fear harder? The light flick peep-holing his grizzled face and hoody head halo crowned under porch light. He’s waiting on a deaf woman’s doorstep, who wished him anywhere but there. Huffing himself up to blow the door down. Menacing as if he were a wolf cast in The Three Little Pigs. But this isn’t a nursery rhyme for kids. There’s a door cheeked between two people. She’s locked in with a metal bat, a shotgun burst of heartbeats ricocheting off her ribcage, with a ready or not thrum fatalism born of nocturnal nights; Barricaded inside a no-man’s land of safe. His body is steel bolted outside hiding in a maelstrom of shadows. A beast of prey leaving his footprints, marking his territory against the one who saw what the wind carried. A vague murk swallowed by shadows leaving downwind as silently as he arrived. Streetlights echoing his milk fog silhouette. A ghost blinking on and off between lights among neighbors who never heard, the bat thunk against the doorframe. What do you call this growl he left in her throat?
Sage Ravenwood is a deaf Cherokee woman residing in upstate NY with her two rescue dogs, Bjarki and Yazhi, and her one-eyed cat Max. She is an outspoken advocate against animal cruelty and domestic violence. Her work can be found in Glass Poetry – Poets Resist, The Temz Review, Contrary, trampset, Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, Pioneertown Literary, Grain, Sundress Press anthology – The Familiar Wild: On Dogs and Poetry, The Rumpus, Lit Quarterly, PØST, Massachusetts Review, Savant-Garde, ANMLY (Anomaly), River Mouth Review, Native Skin Lit, Santa Clara Review, The Normal School, Pinhole Poetry, UCity Review, and more forthcoming. Find her online at sageravenwood.com or on Twitter @SageRavenwood.