As the infant crowns, chip delicately until a firm exhalation can free it from the wall. Collect debris for nesting, stroke through the chest hair and graze the nipple to introduce feeding. This is a father’s first lesson: the supple yield of the earth, the raw pulp hidden under a calloused palm, when to hunt for pleasure.
Someone stumbled out the saloon and buried a shot in the earth. Put her down slow and cruel. As a final respect, we used every part. We tanned the mountains for boots and saddles. We stretched ravines, knotted them for kindling. The women were crafted delicate trinkets from the grit of sand. Our history of drought made for a fine lacquer to preserve what stores we had. The rest we balled and tossed out back for the children to gnaw or fetch.
A lead plug rested square behind my navel. I was knuckle-deep in pursuit, inching myself out like tickertape, like some big city fat cat. Imagine me, grinding paper through my thumb, cigars bulging my breast pocket, enough whiskey to drown a horse and spare fat on my frame to dip a candle for each finger, with some way to garner my worth. What a holler.
Pa spoke for all of us, the sound splattering out like mud from a pump. And across town, in our dumbness, we would go veined with defiance, forgetting our bedside pleas that he not parse words like good and earth and gun. Thunderous Pa, ever high on his rocking chair, a throat full of locusts, preaching like cattle cut to let.
The big day arrived. Pa took me by the old riverbed and told me to eat my fill, that I would need my strength. Ma was waiting for us, twirling graceful as an angel, singing hisses and crackles, smelling beautiful like it was Sunday. Pa stood erect and locked eyes with the sun. He hoisted a spit and let it chatter his teeth until his aim was true. Told me I’m the man of the house while he’s gone.
Francesco Grizanio's chapbook, Stories & Centauries, was published in 2013 by Strange Machine Books. Francesco's work has recently appeared in Phantom Limb, Souvenir, Handsome, Houseguest, and Anti-. He is also a co-founding editor of BORT Quarterly.