My father wore a gun on his ankle
wherever he went, even to church.
I told you it was because of his job,
because he never knew when he’d
have to save a life or take one.
He taught me how to disengage
the safety, how to steady the surprising
weight of any gun in my hands
while I breathe out slowly, pull the trigger,
listen for the explosion and feel the kick
without blinking. The smell of gun oil
as familiar to me as coffee, I said
I never want one in my home;
we should live without one
because others say they can’t.
I am alone, and the house, ordinarily
as quiet as old bones, comes alive.
The dog barks at no one and nothing
as he stares into his reflection
on the paneled windows along the sides
of the front door. And the shadows
that the hall tree stamps on the floor
make me feel like there’s someone
standing there, even though I know
there isn’t. The code to the gun safe
is in my head, burned there by years
of knowing the digits of your
birthday: the year, month, the day
your mother pushed you into this world.
It’s a dangerous gift, knowing
what others want. Not the things
they say they want, but what is hidden
in the dark, deep pulse of blood, tucked
into the heavy folds of muscle and
complex valves where no one ever looks.
When My Monster Finally Appeared
I almost didn’t recognize him. And because I’d imagined
the usual suspects, I’d overlooked the obvious threats.
My monster was no hockey-masked boy walking
toward me with a chainsaw. His face did not turn
green with the effort of spinning itself around.
He didn’t stumble stupidly in relentless search
for living flesh. He made no moves on the dog,
on my sleeping children, on the heavy equipment
parked in the garage. When my monster finally
appeared, he spoke with a soft voice I thought I knew,
said things I might’ve found convincing on any other day.
He moved and breathed and smelled like someone I thought
I loved. And after the dishes were done and the kids were
watching television, he said I have something to tell you.
Any Dog Will Bite
Any dog will bite is one of those
things my father says
from time to time. I know
he means to teach me lessons
until they sink in, like the teeth
of that snapping mongrel he sees
in his head, the dog a stand-in
for everything he fears
or thinks I should.
Out my kitchen window I see
our son, sitting still on the bank
behind our house. His shoulders
curl forward like a question mark
as he props his elbows
on his knees. The gun,
which looks to me like a real gun,
shoots small plastic pellets
from an orange tip. He stares
unblinking through the sights
arranged on the barrel,
the pink tip of his tongue
exploring his upper lip.
He squeezes the trigger,
nailing the paper target twenty
yards away. Over and over
he reloads and fires, making
tiny adjustments that improve
his aim. I can almost feel
the clicking of good gears
in his eleven-year-old head,
can almost smell the concentration
in his boy fingers. From here
I can only see the side of his face,
shining with triumph or
maybe something more.
Notification of Family, 3 a.m.
When my father was new to the job, the kind
that turns happy boys into different sorts of men,
he knocked at the door of a just-turned
widow; though she didn’t know it yet.
Gut-braced for the signs of shock
that would come, the pink of her face
draining into her bathrobe, he knew just how to
catch her when her knees began to buckle.
She’d never fall backwards like they did
in the movies he’d watched as a kid.
Grasping her shoulders, he’d help her
sink down straight where she stood,
repeating the words he’d said already
in his head. But when the door swung in,
she looked him in the eye as he said his part.
I knew that son-of-a-bitch would kill himself
one day, she said, thanking him politely
before shutting the door. My father
stood still a full minute before turning to go.
Later, sitting in his car, he remembered
she’d paused to light her Camel
after opening the door.
First, get yourself a good cast iron pot. Don’t skimp.
You know what kind; you see them everywhere
and think Who would pay that much for a fucking pot?
You will. Go to every Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and
Home Goods in a hundred mile radius, and maybe
you’ll get lucky and find an odd colored one—
mustard yellow or baby shit brown—marked way down
because some people only care about how these things
look, not what they do. My aunt’s like this.
Had a pantry full of every kind—grill pan, Dutch oven,
braiser, you name it. I don’t think her manicured hand,
always holding a Virginia Slim, ever touched one.
Even if you don’t find one cheap, get one.
Steal it if you have to. I won’t judge.
Once you get your pot, you’ll know why you have it.
This pot can do anything and perfectly, every time.
Fancy a fry up? You have your pot. Need a twenty minute
cry? You’ll have a perfect risotto when it’s over.
Want to make grand statements with a heavy thud
while you’re tidying up? Turn to your pot. Soak it
for longer than 30 minutes and you’ll be able
to wipe whatever’s stuck to it free with a soft sponge.
No need for a man to provide elbow grease.
In old pictures of refugees, the ones that show women
with their bundles tied tight with string, there is always
a pot balanced on top of their precious possessions.
You’ll never wonder again what it means.
All poems reprinted from Lion Brothers (Press 53, 2017) with permission of the author. “Self-help” previously appeared in ArLiJo, Issue 89, 2016, and “Any Dog Will Bite” previously appeared in Potomac Review, 2014.
Press 53 publishes short fiction and poetry collections. Located in Winston-Salem, NC, they have been finding and sharing remarkable voices since October 2005.
Leona Sevick is the 2017 Press 53 Poetry Award Winner for her first full-length book of poems, Lion Brothers. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Little Patuxent Review, North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Atlanta Review, and in The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks. She is provost at Bridgewater College in Virginia. Her website: https://leonasevick.com/