Issue 14

Poetry: Lowell Jaeger

First Time

Soles of our bare feet scuffed
gravel down the old logging road, farther
than my new permit
and the car I’d stolen from my father
would drive. She’d hooked

my belt loop, both of us
stumbling deeper
into thickets of hackberry, trembling
as we nudged each other on.

We didn’t talk. Neither of us
could find whatever we looked for
under her t-shirt, inside
my unzippered surrender,
with the slow clock of sunlight
beating us down.

Nothing lasted
in the flash of that day
more than a painful rise inside her
ribcage, her shoulders’ quake.
The deep bloodless welt
where she’d wormed herself against a gooseberry.
The imprint of thorn and needles
tattooed on my thigh.

King Vitamin

George Mann, ex-vaudevillian,
resurfaced in the 70s to fame
as “King Vitaman,” a cereal mascot, posed
with grey sideburns and fuzzy eyebrows,

donning a crown of golden spoons
and a checkered red/white bib.
And struck an august countenance, nodding
to the slogan bannered beside him:
Tasty little crowns – kids love ‘em!

Of all the senseless packaging
I shelved for two years on aisle eight
of Gibb’s Food Mart, King Vitaman
caused a little quake
up the spine to my brain.

What do you want to do with your life?
asked Cherié, the prettiest checker,
after she’d kissed me in the stockroom.
A sort of test, by which
I blushed and felt ridiculous
wearing an apron, swishing a feather duster
for a buck twenty while my buddies
learned construction or drove truck.

I stammered how I didn’t want to grow old
with King Vitaman’s sad old face.
Or his silly name.
It was our first and last kiss.

Mann died 1977, age 71. A short reign.
Cases and cases of the King’s smiling gaze
kept arriving just the same.

My Brother

          taught me a game
called “scrub.” Sort of baseball
for two kids with few friends.
One on the pitcher’s mound, the other at home plate.
In an empty lot at the edge of town,
he’d call strikes and fouls, no matter which of us
stood to swing. Only he could tell
for sure which grounders singled,
which his phantom shortstop scooped for double plays.
Bottom of the ninth, he’d claim I’d popped out
to his invisible right fielder.

He was my big brother,
and we laughed about it years later
when finally I challenged his advantage.
We’d both struck out in college,
couple times each. Both divorced, stuck
in routines smaller than we’d dreamed.

He claimed I’d beat him once. I couldn’t recall
charity more than a string of wild pitches he’d overlooked
after I’d walked him a dozen runs,
and he didn’t want his game done too soon.
Those were good times, a few hours
between brotherly jabs and insults,
between the cruel pleasure
of knuckling each other in the shoulder
or deep in the gut.