Gallons of lousy beer that summer,
but we could handle extra volume
if the brand was shit
so the call was Olympia.
As for what made Oly’s great,
the cans claimed It’s the Water.
Brian might sit in some hands
on nights we played penny-ante.
They’d found cancer in his throat
at just 11 months, so Brian grew up
with a stoma where his voice box
should’ve been. Learned to speak
by way of burps, his case some sort
of medical first they said. His dad
made this whole video montage.
At twelve, Brian’s left arm
had to go. In the footage
from the local news, he smiles
behind thick tubes, wonders how
he’s going to fish. At poker
Brian drank Hawaiian Punch—
the stronger drugs they were trying,
he didn’t know so well.
I bet wild and drank for two.
Afternoons we might set some Oly’s
on ice, head west on the back roads
out of Durham, hit this abandoned,
flooded quarry: its clear, cold water,
its worn, creaky rope swing,
its sandy cliffs only reckless locals
dove from. People said
there were dump trucks, cranes
and such equipment still on the bottom,
springs had filled the quarry so fast.
Once, a guy paused with the rope
and told the story of a drunk
who’d supposedly drowned there:
man ties a rock to his ankle, plans
to drop deep fast and explore
what’s down below, then cut
the rock free—but just
as he heaves himself over the edge,
the man fumbles the knife. “Body
never got recovered,” the guy said.
I grabbed that rope
well above the guide knots
and held my breath before my feet
left the bank. Swung out, let go
and plunged deep to where the sun
didn’t reach to warm things.
I couldn’t help kicking hard
for the surface—something in
the sudden, numbing water,
the slug of cheap beer in my belly,
the eye sockets I imagined below
watching my feet flail, the jaw
lolling open and shut with currents
my kicking only worsened, which I knew
even as I kept kicking. Also
this: that time on the porch
just a week before he died
I turned, feeling large,
and asked Brian to join us.
“You coming along?” I offered,
leaning my forehead on the screen.
The other guys waited in the car.
He looked at me from the couch,
bald head slightly cocked
like he wasn’t sure the question
came from me, or the TV.
Go to the quarry?
Go swimming? At first
I thought he had smiled.
* * * * * *
Three mailboxes on one post
in front of 50 Pettee Ave:
ours, Guido, Angelicola.
For years this post needed fixing—
wood below the soil went rotten,
plus the wobbling got worse
when my brother clipped it with the VW
joyriding on the lawn. Then it happened
Mr. A and Mr. G showed up with tools,
dug a new hole, added two-by-fours
to brace the crap wood. I stayed
inside while they worked, aware
that it was our yard, that my family
were the ones who’d let it go.
First time I’d seen anyone use
a post digger, its pursed lips
containing each mouthful of dirt
just enough to clear the rim of the hole.
Four summers later, for kicks,
my brother and I stacked bricks
and built a fire pit out back
in the defunct sandbox. Nights
we’d load a cooler full of Genny Cream Ale,
light a fire with whatever was around,
torch Oscar Mayers in the flames.
One night toward September, Sam Guido
and Tony Angelicola wandered over,
sat and had a beer with us.
My brother used their first names
and they bullshat frankly with us,
like chums, “I tell you Eddie …” and such.
Am I right to recall some sense
of airing things, of getting the straight dope
after all the years of being neighbors?
Did these men sitting there let on what
they thought of our dad, the professor?
Tony and Sam declined hot dogs
and left the fire after one beer each.
Ed and I threw on twigs, cardboard,
bits of broken sandbox, a length
of old rope—all the fuel
in that small ring of light—then stood
as to root for the cobbled flames.