One Of The Older Kid’s Mother’s Dried Chiles, A Poem by Chris Russell

The last encounter I had with a woodchuck

it bolted directly at me along the edge of a gully

behind our blue cape, because I’d filled in all its

nearby holes. I froze, terrified it was going to

leap into the air and leach through my chest

like a huge drill, but it veered into the woods

and was gone in a rustle of blueberry and sumac.

A few of us kids were always looking to trap

something uncatchable in those woods,

whether it was a woodchuck or a praying mantis

or a giant tumbler-mouthed tapeworm

living in the drainage pipe just below it,

in the belly of the gully where we’d gather summer

nights to breakdance and practice hitting cans

with slingshots until our hands bled.

Just keep training and you’ll get there, I told myself,

though what I was training for I was never really sure.

Looking back, I think I was just acting out some

protective, hunter-like imperative meant to make

me feel important and garner the attention

and loyalty of my tribe.

It didn’t matter who hurt us or tried to,

or how many of his mother’s dried chiles

one of the older kids used to make us younger ones

eat like some initiation into manhood,

holes would be dug, stones would be collected

from the side of the road, and underground bunkers

would be dug adjacent to bike paths, all in

preparation for the great revolt.

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