I remember red, red like Barbie’s
high heel we always lost, my sister
gently taking the blame when I
was the one who had thrown it.
Brown–like the mahogany pews my mother
waxed, up and down the aisles I’d follow behind
with the sloshing golden Pinesol. Golds-
the colors of my first years in the early eighties
in a house with a woman chain smoking Dorals
and drinking pots of black coffee. Tired and angry
and alone. The orange and brown carpet
squares in our chilly living room, noise
from the highway beyond our backyard; my
torn hand-me-down overalls,
a strawberry shortcake pajama shirt.
I remember metal fences and wire, metallic
on my tongue, smearing sticky hands
on my brown corduroys. Kool Aid
and macaroni smudge on my fat cheeks;
the taste of purple–weeds that is, chewing
on the bitter shoots that I had to spit out
usually on the way to the baseball games
you could hear the bat’s crack from the trail
deep in the pines outside of our little town,
suffocating in the scent of milkweed, thistle
prickling to my legs. The smooth sound of
the white rubber tires of the stroller over the
path, carrying my sister–the redhead
that wanted the red shoes.
I remember my stepfather coming in shortly
after those times, that freshness going stale,
his presence that of a stone wall,
master of the house, and our tiptoeing
and whispering never quite quiet enough.
Purple and brown, the hue of bruises.
Rocking in his stained recliner to The Oakridge Boys
as we grew and grew into hiding.
I remember the dirt road to my father’s
farmhouse, the electric emeralds of summer
crowding the ditches, and, in winter, the brown
bones of weeds and dead trees sharp
against the cold gray sky. Smoke coming from
the chimney like a paused cloud as we pulled into
the driveway in the Dodge Monaco, and then
on our tricycles over the hills in the linoleum
room to room, laughing.
Grandpa Leo, or “Pa”, in his black
leather chair, drinking an Old Style. My
father across from him, drinking too. Dirty cousins
visiting the hamper of a house;
welfare, food stamps, cloth diapers, beer, powdered milk and noodles
and how we loved it there. And then
only weekends with him, and then
not at all.
I think of how my father had pushed me
on the swing under the crab apple tree, and how
I wished I had known how to say the words