Always reacted bad to happy—crushed it

when I could like a gimpy bird squirming

under my work boot— at two I chucked

a metal Tonka truck into the TV

to shut my sister’s singing to Big Bird

on Sesame Street—drove fists into the cake

my mom made for my birthday—a tiny

silver plane pulled my name in blue

cursive across a fluffy field of white

icing—goddamn, her face—too much pretty

and I shook with rage, had to smash things up.

Bad tooth abscess at 13—oxycotin

for the pain—and lo and fucking behold

it tamped the demon down—drove that beast

into a cave, kept it at bay—but the price

for peace a man is made to pay—gerbil wheel

of scoringdealingjailrehab—ring of ink

roped ’round my neck every year—last stint in

the fits just quit—got out, stayed clean, went

to AA, Tech for welding degree—met

Katie and bam! the kid—one year, I can

breathe.  Until today—we came to camp out

by the river for my birthday—Katie, baby

at her tit, back lit with some goddamn golden

shaft of light beaming through the pin oak trees—

and I could feel the old gear ratchet up

in my guts— thought I’d shit—wanted to hit

them or worse—the hatchet heavy in my hand

from splitting firewood.  Told her I had to piss—

then dove for the double dose of gray

death and works stashed under the truck seat.

Had to—when my boy was born I put one

hand on his head, the other on my heart

and swore if I ever had just one thought

of hurting him I’d do myself in then

and there.  So—here I am— hunkered

down on a tree stump sunk in the muck

and reeds—when the tide turns I’ll punch

it in—by the time I’m good and gone

the rogue current will sweep me clean

away—and my sweet fucking Katie-girl

back at that picnic table with the cake,

the candles waiting to be lit. I guess

the sole witness to the only vow

I’ve ever made much less kept is that black

bittern above circling back to her nest.

Nancy Mitchell is a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner and the author of two volumes of poetry, The Near Surround (Four Way Books, 2002) and Grief Hut (Cervena Barva Press, 2009). Her third book, The Out-of- Body Shop is forthcoming in 2018. Her poems have appeared in, Agni, Columbia College Literary Review, Green Mountains Review, Poetry Daily, Tar River Review, Thrush, Tulane Review, and Washington Square Review among others. She is the co-editor of and chief contributor to Plume Interviews I (2017). Mitchell teaches at Salisbury University in Maryland and serves as the Associate Editor of Special Features for Plume.

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