Curtis Smith ~ This Rising

The back­yard oak, branch­es that lad­der to the clouds. A cere­al aisle’s bright col­ors, your mother—for a moment—lost, and you for­get how to breathe. The blind man across the alley who knows your name. A red-haired boy who mocks your words. The hours you stand in front of the mir­ror, prac­tic­ing the place­ment of your tongue, hat­ing your voice, your face. The nights you dream of your house and the doors that lead to for­got­ten rooms. A blizzard’s drifts, your strug­gles to match your father’s foot­steps. The three-legged dog you stop to pet on your way home from school. The night your father twists your mother’s arm. The night she smash­es a plate and he ban­dages her hand. The night he packs his suit­case, his good­bye your North Star. The mir­ror. Your voice. Your face. Your mother’s tears. A tor­na­do blows in your bed­room win­dow, glass on your pil­low. The cru­ci­fix Jesus in your grandmother’s guest room. The TV news, mur­der, back­yard graves—“This world,” your moth­er says, chang­ing the chan­nel. The day you see an ambu­lance out­side the blind man’s house. The bank where your moth­er works, the man­ag­er who promis­es to take her to the Poconos, Atlantic City. The rock you throw at a boy because he has red hair. Your moth­er asleep on the couch, and you cov­er her with the afghan, slide off her shoes. The nights you have cere­al for din­ner. The nights you have cere­al for din­ner. The nights you have noth­ing. The train tracks where you sip your first beer. The girl who sits beside you in geom­e­try, the curve of her left breast in a winter’s worth of sweaters. The fight where your friend wres­tles you away, the punch­es you can’t stop throw­ing, a cir­cuit blown, his breath in your ear, “Cool it, man. Shit!” The girl you kiss and won­der if you’re doing it right. The girl who unzips your jeans and turns you to water. The girl you love who doesn’t love you back. The girl you say you love only to fuck her. The morn­ing you wake in jail, the night before lost. The bench you sit on at the com­mu­ni­ty col­lege cam­pus when you should be in class. Your mother’s back to you as she wash­es the dish­es, “I don’t know who you are any­more.” The car you stum­ble out of, the dri­ver a friend who’ll ten min­utes lat­er plow into a street­light. The weight of his cof­fin as you slide it into a hearse. The bed you share with his sis­ter, the grief and guilt and ecsta­sy, and per­haps this is what reli­gion feels like. The night she con­vinces you to take a hit, the smoke curl­ing off the foil, the rush that turns the world soft and slow, and per­haps this is what reli­gion feels like. The nights you stare at each oth­er upon a shared pil­low. The nights you talk about help­ing her kick and the dis­com­fort of imag­in­ing your own hap­pi­ness. The night she karaokes “More Than a Woman.” The morn­ing you wake to find her blue and cold. The black eye her father gives you, and if he want­ed to do worse, you wouldn’t have lift­ed your hands. The feel­ing that you’re both emp­ty and full to burst­ing and not under­stand­ing which makes you feel like a liar. The warehouse’s chill and fumes, and your body moves but not your spir­it. The nights you return to your old neigh­bor­hood just to walk, think­ing of a blind man, a three-legged dog. The papers you sign at the recruiter’s office and your smile as you tell him it’s either this or a bul­let through your head. The good­bye prayers your moth­er offers, your hand in hers, and you’re tak­en back, her ban­daged hand, the hurt you’ve brought, and you’re sor­ry, so sor­ry. The bus ride to the base, and no one talks, and out­side your win­dow, the flat­lands and pine trees, the green and blue and white that erase all you know. The base’s paint­ed lines, a barber’s two-minute shear­ing, and every spit­tle-fly­ing time your drill sergeant calls you a fuck-up, you lose your­self a lit­tle more. The day your feet bleed. The day you crawl through the muck as live rounds zing over­head. The let­ters your moth­er sends—there’s always been a light around you. The scream that burns your throat as you charge across a smoky field and thrust a bay­o­net into a stack of tires, and here, final­ly, is your reli­gion. This shed­ding. This rebirth. This rising.


Curtis Smith’s sto­ries and essays have appeared in over one hun­dred lit­er­ary jour­nals and have been cit­ed by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, The Best Small Fictions, The Best Microfictions, and the Norton anthol­o­gy, New Micro. He’s pub­lished thir­teen books with inde­pen­dent presses–five sto­ry col­lec­tions, five nov­els, two essay col­lec­tions, and one book of cnf. His lat­est nov­el, The Magpie’s Return, was named an indie pick of 2020 by Kirkus. His next nov­el, The Lost and the Blind, will be released in 2023.