When John is my boyfriend
he says let’s melt crayons into a big rainbow and we peel them with our rough fingernails, lay them in a metal pan, ROYGBIV, turn on the oven. It’s summer, my dad’s at work, mom at school, and we are looking for a snack when my brother yelps and through the oven window, flames, black smoke feathering up. John grabs oven mitts and pirate voice, Step aside. I block the door, send my brother to Craig’s mom for help but she runs across the back yards, yelling Fire!
In case we have to evacuate, we pile animals by the door: gerbil, guinea pigs, kittens, guppies firefighters boot-slide aside to stomp through the living room. Our yard is full of neighbors and soon my dad in his business clothes, mom in her white uniform, landlord. In the kitchen, all the colors mixed and singed in the ruined pan, the scorched air.
My father drives us to the airport
to watch jets take off and land. He dreamed of being a pilot in the Great War, but the Air Force didn’t want any four-eyes. His brother, a Flying Tiger, came home and married a pretty girl in L.A.
Once, we flew home July 4th, the pilot tipped the wing to fireworks popping over Niagara Falls.
The school playground is open all summer. Our slide is sky high. So are the swings, perched on the edge of a hill. We sail off like Olympic skiers. The boys pump their legs like cartoon characters but I just glide. Or run down the mowed grass, arms out, gravity a slingshot.
In dreams I soar over roads full of cars, over the whole city, farms, bridges, the edge of the world. But when the angry man chases me, I almost forget I can fly.
Waist deep in Buffalo Creek
with Pennee Baker who’s a head taller—lives in the white duplex two down—tapes comics into a red scrapbook with black pages, like Snoopy serene on his dog house roof, thought bubble A place for everything and everything in its place.My visiting grandmother points her chin at my room. Good advice.
I open my hands to cup the current. In shallows, I heft a flat rock and the muddy swirl clears, crayfish facing me, snappers up. I lower my arm without making a shadow, quick-pinch at the start of the cold armor. The claws splay, useless. I drop them in a bucket for the back patio turtle ring, like a Jell‑O mold with palm trees, feed them my brother’s guppy food.
I bring fresh creek water often as I can, crossing Clinton St. with a Kool Aid pitcher, but still they die and dissolve, water gray and thick. Someone tells me later, who knows what’s in that creek.
When Angela’s mother
kills herself, Mom takes me to the wake in South Buffalo of uppers and lowers, delis, porches, churches taller than trees, and maybe Angela is surprised to see me since we aren’t really friends, but I am so sad for her that her aunt gives me a hug and tells me to call anytime so I call every day, hold my breath and listen for the talking, laughing, music, television, dishes, all the sounds in that house. How are you, I ask, until she says, I’m happy here. Don’t call anymore.
When we move to French Lea,
third grade is underway. Mrs. Hoffman bosom-squeezes me like a grandmother. We make rainforests in shoe boxes—mine has a monkey vine I snip out of National Geographic.
When my brother and I wheeze bronchitis, we miss school, crowd into the lower bunk, air thick with vaporizer and Mentholatum, Mom reading David Copperfield.
Our student teacher walks us to the library, shows me the nature books. After recess she reads A Wrinkle in Time. Meg goes alone to Camazotz to rescue her brother, prisoner. Her power is love. We are mesmerized into stillness. I’ve never known a book like this. I don’t know how she can get away with it.
Karen Schubert is the author of The Compost Reader (Accents Publishing 2020) and five chapbooks, including Dear Youngstown (NightBallet Press) and I Left My Wings on a Chair (Kent State University Press), winner of the Wick Poetry Center chapbook prize. Her poetry and creative nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Read+Write: 30 Days of Poetry;21st Century Plague: Poems and Prose for a Pandemic; Ohio Poetry Association Common Threads; Raw Data: Living In the Fallout from the Coronavirus; and Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough, Pollination Poems (Edith Chase Symposium). Her awards include a 2020 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Thomas Lux Scholarship, Wick Poetry Center Chapbook Prize, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Headlands Center for the Arts. She is Founding Director of Lit Youngstown.