For Buzzy

For Buzzy
Karin Hoffecker, Birmingham
Second Prize, Poetry

This autumn afternoon,

one of red and gold

fire in the canvas of the sky,

I thumb the photo, Easter

Sunday 1960, you, brother,

dressed in gray flannel

trousers, jacket, boxy bow

tie. We smile hand-in-hand,

my white crocheted gloves,

a ruffle at the wrist.

I remember the world

as it used to be, birthday

parties, crepe paper streamers,

chocolate cake, and you

in pointed cardboard hat,

pastel blower pressed

between your lips;

the Halloween you dressed

as a sheriff, straw cowboy

hat, black leather boots, shiny

silver star pinned to your chest.

And then the Good Friday

the world turned black, smoke

billowing when match flame

ignited too quickly the yellow

straw of the doghouse bed,

you inside. My guilt

for the times I screamed,

I wish you were dead,

guilt for knowing you took

the long stemmed kitchen

matches, ones with the bright

cherry colored heads. Later,

the stench in mother’s clothes

and hair, the odor I still smell

when fall fireplaces glow.

After the funeral, return

to life without you — my

second grade classmates

suddenly friendly, invite

me to play kick ball, make

room for me at the cafeteria

table, my teacher wearing

stilettos and a tight skirt,

hugging me too close,

telling me to be brave.

Teacher, who’d made me

vomit, retch, every report

card, always a C minus

student. And for months

after, your room untouched,

your scent lingering on bed

sheets, your cap guns

and holster, the planet play

set with space men and rockets,

the dirty canvas tennis shoes,

left in the closet.

A photo arrives in the mail,

a glossy black and white,

my cousin’s son and daughter

posed arm-in-arm in tap shoes.

Startled by the likeness, same

tousled hair, spray of freckles,

same impish grin dressing

his face, I trace your smile,

stop time.

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