Editor's Note—Fourteen stories distinct but not separate. We've winnowed this sampling of the brothers from a series numbering close to infinite, going as far as to scavenge spark plugs and a carburetor from our literary neighbors to make it go. It was worth it. You can take them one at a time but the house recommends putting on a pot of coffee—a weak instant you need a pound of sugar in to flavor it up—and scroll top to bottom until your eyes bleed. Or, print out a copy and sit beneath that walnut tree in your grandma's back yard and spend a lazy Sunday dreaming of brothers and mud. The one thing to remember is that it starts with a river and ends with a river. Enjoy.
We used to
take the fish we'd catch out of this dirty river that runs through this
dirty river town and we used to cut off those still glistening with silver
scaled heads and we used to nail them, those heads, to the creosoted pole
out back behind our yard. We'd hammer nails into those cold water eyed
heads and make for ourselves what my brother and me used to call our back
yard fishing pole. We did not stop fishing for and catching and nailing
those fish heads into wood until the day our father came home from work
and told us we were leaving. When our father told us we were leaving,
he meant it, we were leaving for good: our dirty river, our dirty town.
We did not want to leave, my brother and me. We did not want to leave
behind the town or the river or the fish headed telephone post the two
of us brothers turned into a back of the yard fishing pole out back behind
the wood tool shed where our father kept his hammers and his saws and
his cigar boxes full of rusty, bent back nails and his nuts and bolts
and screws and those bottles half filled with whiskey.
At night, from our bedroom window, my brother
and me could look outside and see those fishes's marbly looking eyes looking
back all walleyed out from the sides of their chopped off heads. The biggest
of the big lipped fish looked like they might leap out and bite the hand
left dangling over the side of a boat. We gave each of the fish heads
each a name. In the end there were exactly a hundred and fifty fish heads
named, each with its own name. Not one was called Jimmy or John.
Jimmy and John was my brother's and my
real name. We called each other Brother.
Our father called us brothers Son. When
our father hollered out Son, the both of us brothers would turn back our
heads. We both knew, we were crossing this river together.
Our mother called us both her dirty little
boys. We boys were made, our mother liked to say, in the spitting image
of our father. We did not like it much when our mother told us brothers
to wash the mud from off of our boots.
We liked mud and those dirty river smells
that smelled of fishing and worms. We did not like it when our mother
made us wash our hands to rid ourselves of those fishy river smells. We
liked the way the fish's silver fish scales stuck to and glittered sparkly
in our hands. At night, we liked to hold our hands up to the moonlight
shining into our bedroom window. It looked like our hands had been dipped
But our mother and our father both were
sick and tired of living in a town with a dirty river running through
it and with river winds that always smelled of fish. Our mother said she
wanted to go somewhere, anywhere is the word she used, so long as anywhere
was west of here. West where? was what our father wanted to know. And
what our mother said was West of all this muddy water. Somewhere, our
mother said, where there's not so much mud and rusted steel. There's a
bigger sky, our mother wanted us to know. There's a sky, our mother told
us. There's a sky not stunted by smokestacks and smoke.
We couldn't picture a sky bigger than the
sky outside our back yard. We did not want to imagine a town without a
dirty river running through it where we could run down to it to fish. Us brothers, we did not
want to run or be moved away from all this smoke and water and mud.
We didn't know what we were going to do,
or how we were going to stay, until
we looked outside and saw our fish. The fish heads were looking back at
us, open eyed, open mouthed, and it was like they were singing to us brothers.
We climbed outside through our bedroom's window. Only the moon and stars
were watching us as we walked out to our father's tool shed and dug out
his hammers and a box of rusty, bent back nails. We each of us grabbed
a hand full of nails and a hammer in each of our hands and walked over
to our fish headed fishing pole. Brother, I said to Brother, you can go
Give me your hand, I told him. Hold your
hand up against this wood.
Brother did like I told.
We were brothers. We were each other's
voice inside our own heads.
This might sting, I warned, and then I
raised back that hammer and I drove that rusty nail right through Brother's
Brother didn't even wince, or flinch with
his body, or make with his mouth a sound of a brother crying out.
Good, Brother, I said.
I was hammering in another nail into Brother's
other hand when our father stepped out into the yard.
Son, our father called out.
Us, our father's sons, turned back our
heads toward the sound of our father.
We waited to hear what it was our father
was going to say to us next.
It was a long few seconds. The sky above
the river where the steel mill stood like some sort of a shipwreck was
dark and quiet. Somewhere, I was sure, the sun was shining.
You boys remember
to clean up before you come back in, our father said.
Our father turned back his back.
Us brothers turned to face each other.
I raised back the hammer.
I lined up that rusted nail.
what even the river can't
What us brothers
always remember, our earliest memories, back from way back when, is our
mother forever wanting to wash the mud off our father's boots: our mother
scrubbing at the crusted mud with stiff, steel wire brushes, or stabbing
at the caked in dirt dried hard on the boot bottoms, this with a screw
driver, or knife, or sometimes a rusty razor blade, us watching this all:
the hosing off, the dunking of the boots into a bucket of sudded, muddy
water, the wiping of them down, our mother buffing the boots dry till
they became boots that shined brand new. Us brothers liked to watch because
we did not understand why it was our mother would want to wash mud off
our father's boots, especially when the very next day what our father
was going to do was walk through more mud again. We did not get it why
our mother would want our father's boots to be unmuddied. Our boots, on
us brothers, they would not be the boots that they were, to us brothers,
without the mud that was on them that made them ours. Our boots were more
mud than they were boot. Our father's boots, much like ours, his were
not boots that were brand spanking new. They were old. They were boots
that our father wore, day in and day out-at night too-when he was working,
and even when he wasn't. When our father wasn't at work, what our father
was usually doing was walking through mud to work his way down to the
muddy river, to get to where he and us brothers—us his sons-liked to
fish. Our father was the kind of man who liked to walk through mud when
there was mud nearby to walk through. Our town was a muddy river town,
with a muddy river running through it. Mud, us brothers liked to say,
it was in our blood. It was a river that ran through our veins. But our
mother. Our mother was the only one of us who did not love mud. Our mother,
what it all boils down to: she just didn't get mud. She was always trying
to get us brothers to take off our boots outside. She'd holler out Stop!
if you started walking into her kitchen with your boots still laced up
on your feet. To us brothers our mother yelled out Stop! more than alot.
Our mother was a traffic light standing always at the door. Her mouth,
our mother's, it was a hole in her head that liked to flash red. But enough
said about our mother. What us brothers want to talk about now is our
father's boots. Our father's boots, on a raining night, with our father
walking in them, walked into the kitchen tracking in newly made mud. Our
mother, when she saw coming in our cover all covered father all covered
over with rain and mud, she did her stop light song and dance. But our
father kept right on walking in. He did not stop walking in until he had
walked all the way through the house and out the front door, where he
kept on walking, on his way down to the river, the mud on his boots lighting
the way. Us brothers ran out after our father, calling out for him to
Stop! Wait up! and with our fists raised towards the sky, Way to go! But
our father, if he heard us brothers or not, he did not stop or turn back
around. What our father did was he kept walking. He kept on walking until
he was all the way down to where the river begins. And he did not stop
walking there. No, but what our father did was he walked out into the
river, as if he was expecting to walk on the river, as if the river was
a road that he was walking across it to get to the other side. Here again,
our father did not look back, he did not turn back around, he did not
stop walking out when his sons hollered out to him to, Stop! Wait for
us! We stopped walking and we stood on the edge of the river and we watched
the muddy river water rise up to meet our father. Our father, in our father's
muddy boots, sinking down, down to the river's muddy bottom, where us
sons can't help but imagine that he kept right on a walking, walking until
the river's bottom, and the water up above it, turned into sky.
We knew this
other boy in town who was brother to nobody-an only child with only a
mother and a father and no brother to call his own. So we took him in
as brother. We did not call him brother though. We called him Boy. Boy
was littler than us brothers. Boy was born years-no, centuries-after we
were born. We were down by the river with our fishing man father the day
that this other brother was born into this world. This boy, this brother,
we were told, was born with teeth and a full head of hair. What he was
not born with, we discovered, was a tongue. This boy's mouth was a hole
in his face he fed food into. Once in a while we might hear some mouthy
sounds grunting out. For the most part, though, Boy was silent. Some of
the time we did not even know he was near, standing close by, his feet-flopping
inside his father's boots-sunk into the river, ankles deep in the river's
mud. At times, Boy was more dog than he was a boy. Boy was a dog who always
came whenever we called, to do whatever was told. Us brothers taught Boy
more than a few tricks. We taught Boy how to walk on water. It is true
that Boy drowned the first time he walked out. Boy floated face down down
the river. But then he walked upriver back. Back to us brothers. Good
dog, we told Boy. We scratched Boy's back. We pulled a bone out from Boy's
hand and tossed it to the river. Boy, we told him. Go fish. Boy took to
the water like he was part dog, part fish. Then Boy swam back to the river's
muddied bank and flopped down on the shore. Like a fish. This boy here
is a keeper, Brother said. If you say so, I said to Brother. And then
we chopped off this boy's head.
the river is a dirt road
we take our father's hanging up work clothes-his mud muddied coveralls,
his checker board shirts, his stiff with mud work gloves, his mud bottomed
working boots with the steel of the toe of them shining through-and we
go with these left behind things bundled up in our arms down to the dirty
river that runs through this dirty river town. And down at this river's
muddy edge we drop these things that used to be our father's down into
this mud: we drop these mud crusted worker boots, we drop those mud covered
coveralls, and then we drop down ourselves into the mud, and down on our
hands and knees us brothers, we take up our hands full of this freshly
made river made mud and we stuff this oozey mud into the insides of our
father's going to work things: we pack this mud inside where our father
used to put the parts of his body inside, back when he used to have to
pull on these mill bibs of his up and over his arms and his chest and
legs and then reach down to lace up those chunky boots. And once these
things are things now stuffed up to the gills of them with mud, what us
brothers do with these mud stuffed up things is we toss them into the
river: we throw them the way we do it to a fish too small for the skillet,
out and back and in, into the river's muddy waters, and then we stand
there on the river's muddy shore and watch-watch us as we do this watching-what
looks like it is our father, but really this is what we have left of our
father, float on down the river out to where we know there is a lake out
there, somewhere, where this river comes to an end. Though after awhile
even this, these things that were our father's, that skin of him we so
often watched as he walked away, his face turned back to us brothers on
his walk to work: even these things of his disappear too soon from our
seeing. We stand there and watch those boots with the mud inside them
sink down and be swallowed like an anchor or a cinder block or a big chunk
of busted up concrete sinks down and it is gone away from our eyes. Our
father's coveralls, at first, they looked like they might just slowly
float away without sinking, but these too, it doesn't take long: it takes
just a little longer than our father's other things for the weight of
the mud to pull them under to where the bottom of river is: down where
the ghost of our father, bare footed and boot less now, a mud covered
man ghost, he walks through this under the river mud: the mud between
his toes, he tells us brothers, it's like walking on water, is what he
says: or like crossing across a muddy dirt road.
we make mud
We make Girl.
We make Girl down by the river out of the
river's mud. Here, where river water meets earth to make mud we make Girl.
We start at the bottom and make our way up. Her knees are especially muddy.
They make us want to remain forever kneeling. We can barely stand to look
Girl straight in the eye. She is that muddy. Her eyes and her hair and
her skin, too, all the color of mud.
We love mud.
Mud, we can never get enough of.
Girl is pure mud. Even her heart is made
out of mud. Her mud heart drums inside her mud chest. It is a drum. It
is a drum made out of mud. If you close your eyes, you can see it. It's
shaped like a moon and pumps mud instead of blood. If you cup your hand
around your ear, like a seashell, you can hear it, Girl's mud made heart,
beating behind her mud ribbed ribcage, a hand full of bony bones rattled
and rolled about by the hammering fist of God.
When it rains Girl calls out to us to come
save her. When it rains we bring Girl inside, into our bedroom. We tuck
her into bed, kneel by her side.
If it looks as if we are saying our prayers,
look again. We watch Girl sleep.
In the morning we each take turns kissing
Girl on her lips, to breathe her back into this other life.
Girl is our sister.
Our parents think we are just two brothers.
They think we are sisterless.
Girl is all ours.
We made her.
She began as mud.
She began as mud but became a girl when
we gave her her name. We named her Girl because that's what she looked
like: girl. Girl, we said. And the name stuck like a stick stuck in the
We took a stick and spelled Girl's name
in the mud down by the edge of the river.
It looked good in mud.
Girl's mud body shined like something made
brand new in the moonlight.
See Girl standing down by the river in the
river made mud. Girl was made naked.
Brother pointed this out.
Yeah, I said. So?
Brother said, She needs some clothes.
Who says? I said.
Said Brother, Maybe she's cold.
Are you cold? I asked Girl.
Girl didn't say anything.
Brother left and when he came back he was
holding in his arms a bag full of girl clothes.
I asked him where he found those.
From our mother's closet, he said.
I looked at Brother.
There was this look that us brothers had
It was a look that actually hurt the eyes
of the brother who was doing the looking.
Imagine that look.
Where else was I supposed to look?
I didn't know.
I took back the look.
We got Girl dressed.
We pulled our mother's skin over Girl.
Even so, Girl was still beautiful.
Girl's body shined, like wet mud, from beneath
our mother's cottony clothes.
our father's shed, where
our father keeps his tools, the rusty buckets & muddy shovels, the
nuts & bolts & nails & screws, bottles half-filled with
it's not made out of mud: it's made out of wood, what our father likes
to call lumber, and us brothers, our father's sons, we like the way that
word lumber sounds when it lumbers out of his, out of our father's, mouth.
On our father's tongue, this word, lumber, when it comes lumbering out,
it sounds even heavier than lumber itself. Hand me up that lumber, our
father says to us his sons. He says, Hand me my hammer. Us brothers, we
do what our father tells us. We take our father's hammer into our boy
hands and we hand our father this hammer. Then we step back and watch
our father cock back with his hammering hand and then we watch him hammer
in his other hand, his nail holding hand, into the wood. When that rusted,
bent back nail goes through his hand and into the lumber that is right
behind it, our father doesn't even flinch, or wince, or make with his
mouth the sound of a father crying out. What our father does do with his
mouth is he says to us his sons who are doing this watching, This wood
is good wood. This is a good piece of lumber, he says, and he sucks in
on the second rusted nail that is pinched in the corner of his mouth.
Now it's your turn, he turns, and says this to us brothers, and he spits
out this bent back nail. Us brothers, we look across at each other, we
glance down at the nail that's here on the dirt in between us, we gaze
up at our father's hammered in hand, his fingers flared out like the gill
plates and spiky fins of a still live fish when we stick in the knife
to gut it. What we see are rivers and rivers criss crossing in the palm
of his hand, blossoming out from the head of this rusted nail: all of
these rivers running red. We both know, us brothers do, we are crossing
this river together. We reach up and put our hands on top of our father's,
and we hold him here in this place.
what we do with the fish
after we gut the fish
We eat the
Our mother fries up the fish in a cast iron
skillet that spits up buttery fish fried grease every time she drops a
bread crumb battered fish fillet into the pan. We sit at the kitchen table
in front of our empty plates and listen to the pop and pizz and sizzle
of the frying up fish. Just yesterday these fish were swimming in the
muddy waters of our muddy river and now they are gutted and headless and
chopped in half and about to be swallowed into our open mouths, our empty
bellies. Our father is outside, in the shed, sharpening his knives. When
all the fish have been fried up hard to a crisp shucked golden colored
brown, our mother will tell us brothers to call in our father to come
inside to eat the fish. Fish on, we will tell him. Come and get them while
they're good and hot. Our father comes when we call. He tracks mud into
our mother's kitchen. Our mother tells him look what you've done. He looks
down at his boots and says the word mud. Our mother throws up her hands
and then she throws the skillet of fried up fish at our father. The fish
skid across the kitchen floor. Our father tells her that he and us sons
caught and cleaned out the guts of those fish. Our mother tells our father
he knows what he can do with those fish. Then she tells us how she hates
fish and fish smells, how she hates this fishy river, how much she hates
this fishy, smelly town. Leave, our father says to this. Our mother says
maybe she will. They both turn and walk away, our father back outside,
our mother into hers and our father's bedroom. Us brothers are left with
the fish, are left to clean up the mess. We drop down onto our hands and
knees onto the floor and begin to eat.
the moon is a mirror
Girl slips her hands in through our bedroom's window and pets my brother's
and my's peach fuzz cheeks. When this happens, we try not to wake. If
we wake, we make like we are still sleeping. Girl holds our sleepy heads
in the palms of her mud cracked hands and rocks us to keep us sleeping.
Sometimes, Girl sings. Some nights, Girl lifts us up and holds us to her
chest, there where the treasure of her heart beat is buried beneath her
skin. There is a freckle there, a beauty mark, above Girl's heart. It
is shaped like an X. Dig here is what her heart tells us. We always listen.
In the morning, we brothers awake with a mission. We get our father's
shovels and head on down to the river, to where Girl whispered to us that
she would be waiting. She is. And we dig. We take turns digging. We dig
until we get down to the bottom. There is this river there, and a sun,
and a moon that is made out of mud. See the moon, Girl tells us, her mouth
ripping its grin across the face of it. It is a mirror. Look inside. Inside
are two girls. Sisters. One for each brother. Girl points this out. Us
brothers take a look inside. We see the two sisters, twins. We give each
of us brothers a look, a shrug, then we dive inside. The moon shatters
into a billion pieces. Each broken chunk becomes a star.
the moon is a fish
when one of the fish that us brothers caught, fish that we lured and hooked
and reeled in and up on to our river's muddy banks, this fish, it was
so beautiful, it was such a lovely fish, its fish eyes moons, its fish
scales glowey stars, that we could not get ourselves to kill and to cut
off this fish's head. We had never had any trouble cutting off the heads
of any fish before we did with this beautiful fish. Beauty, this fish,
this thing of beauty, it was messing with us brothers' muddy heads, it
was a rusty nail run through our muddy brother hearts.
So we decided to bring this fish home with
us, and there we ran a tub full of cold water in the bath room's claw
footed tub, and with our hands curled tenderly around the fish's beautiful
white belly, we lowered this fish into this tubby river. In the tub, this
fish kissed and bumped its nose against the walls. When the fish swam
twice round the tub it stopped with its swimming and looked up at us brothers,
us who were looking down at it, watching it tread water, marveling at
fish with our eyes and fingers and with our mouths hanging quietly open,
the way we do when we look up at the moon.
Mud, fish said, this word, mud, the sound
of mud, bubbling up, in an unmuddy bubble. Muddy water, fish said to us
next, its mouth a blossoming flower, lips lifting up for a kiss.
Brother looked over at me and I looked over
at Brother. Us brothers both knew, in our muddy hearts, our muddy heads,
what it was that we had to do.
We ran ourselves down to the river, with
a metal bucket, to fetch us, our fish guest, some mud, muddy water. We
dug in with our hands into the mud. This bucket, we filled with mud. We
dumped the mud from the buck-et into the tub. The water turned a sudden
and beautiful muddy brown. The fish looked up at us brothers, up from
all this mud, up, and up, through the muddy water. A fish, at this moment,
never looked more beautiful. Its eyes were unnamed planets. Each scale
on fish's slender body was a burning kiss left by a falling star. We bent
down each of us on our right knee and reached in to touch the fish. You,
come on, reach in and touch this fish. This fish is a thing you can touch
only once. Touch it twice and its beauty will banish you with beauty.
Each of us brothers, after a while, picked up the fish. And held it against
our chests. We looked at each other. After we were done doing our looking,
without saying a word, we ran back down to the river. We kissed this fish
goodbye. We threw fish back, into the muddy river, and the river, this
beautiful river, this muddy river, this river, it kissed us brothers back.
the moon is a lighthouse:
underneath her breath, breathing so that us brothers can barely hear it,
breathes, Bring me your river. We figure this, if only this, it is a thing
us sons can get ourselves to do. So we shove our mother's bed over to
where the bedroom window is a box of muddy light for our mother to look
outside. Outside this window's pane, we can see it is raining. It's been
raining so long now that we have run out of fingers for us to count the
days on. This rain, it might never give up, we have given ourselves to
this believing. It might never stop. This is all right with us, for it's
a good rain that makes for good mud making. And this, making mud, it is
a thing us brothers can't never get enough of. But the moon. Brother,
but the moon is another story. The moon is nowhere to be, by us brothers,
seen. It is a brand new baseball lost in the bushes, or batted into some
old man's back yard, broken through a garage's window. Or else it's a
dog's bone buried in a back yard place we cannot get back to, the hole
once dug now covered over and grown smooth, with mud. See the river, we
say, to mother, and sit her body up, our bodies two pillows stuck behind
her back. I can't see it, she says, her eye shades all a flitter, the
rainy light, dull as it is, to our mother's eyes, to moons used to only
the dark: to her, this light is kisses, it is knives. The sky, we say
to her next. Look at the sky. The sky, we say, it is a river. And the
stars, the stars are the glowing eyes of fish. And the moon? our mother
asks, catching us, her sons, off guard. The moon, we say, it is a lighthouse.
And we are all us here living inside.
We go down
to the river. We go down just before dark to watch for falling stars.
The sky always darkens over the river first. Just after dark, Girl tells
us, is the best time to catch a star that's falling. If Girl says this
is so, this is so. Look behind us, west of us, see the sky still holding
on to light. The star in the west we call the sun. Girl calls it sister.
Slowly the stars begin to take to the sky, each star is looking out a
window curtained by day, shut to keep out its distant cousin, the sun.
See that spoony shaped thing there, Girl tells us. We look to where her
pointy finger points. I call that Table Spoon. And that littler one over
there, she says, that's its little brother. I call him Tea. I use Tea
to stir up my morning cup of muddy river coffee. Table, Girl says, I use
to sip my bowl of muddy river soup for lunch. What about those stars way
up there? Brother asks, looking straight up. Dust, Girl says. The sky
is a house. Sometimes it gets dusty and dirty, muddy too. Star, Girl!
I cry out hard. There! I point to where there is a smudge of fire smearing
the sky. It is a burning matchstick, a still lit cigarette flicked out
the window of a speeding car. I try to picture the hand that threw this
star. To imagine something bigger than Girl. I can not. What I can see
is this. I see Girl reach her right hand up into the sky. I see Girl catch
this star from its falling. See Girl take this starry star and hold it
against her thigh, until it burns, until it leaves its mark.
our father who walks on
water comes home with two buckets of fish
This is our
father we are watching. We watch our father walk on water. He is walking
across it: our father is crossing this dirty river that runs through this
dirty river town: our father is coming back now from the river's other
side. We see that he has, hanging from his each of his muddy hands, a
muddy bucket. When it is us, his sons, that he sees are the ones doing
the watching, our father walks up to face us. He sets down those muddy
buckets onto the ground. We look down at those buckets. When we look down
inside the buckets, we see they are both filled up to the rusted brim
with fish. Supper, our father says. We shadow him back home, us brothers,
his sons, mudding through the mud, walking in the tracks of our father's
muddy boots. When we get home, we watch our father walk into the kitchen
without first taking off his muddy boots. We do like our father. We walk
inside, with our boots still on. The floor, with mud all over it, has
never looked so shiny. Mother, our father barks out. He calls to her her
name. We don't say anything about our mother. We go and fetch a frying
pan out of the cupboard and put it on the stove. Our father sees us and
gets a knife to gut the fish with. Maybe he figures that our mother is
out shopping. Our father takes the fish out of the buckets and goes at
them with this knife: he cuts off first the head, tail next, then he sticks
the rusted blade inside. We watch our father claw two fingers in and slide
them inside. What is inside the fish comes slushing out onto the floor.
We fry the fish up hard in sputtering hot margarine, what our father always
called lard. It's good to be back home, our father says. He howls out
for our mother to come eat. He gets no answer, only the hollowed out echo
of an empty house. He keeps on eating. We keep on eating. We do not say
a thing about our mother. After we are done with the eating, it is us
brothers who do the cleaning up. We take what's left off of our plates
and we scrape what's left into the trash. The dirty dishes, slick with
lard, we pile these into the sink. The parts of the fish that we do not
eat-the guts, the heads, the bones-these we take outside, out to the back
yard. The guts, the tails, these we bury, in holes that us brothers dig.
The heads, with the eyes still staring out of them, we hammer these into
the creosote coated telephone pole that's in the back of our back yard.
It's the sound of us doing this hammering that brings our father outside.
When he asks of us where is your mother, one of us whispers fish, and
the other one of us mutters moon. To this, our father nods, then he heads
back down in the direction of the river. And without so much as a word
or a wave good bye, we watch our father walk back across the river to
the river's other side, walking and walking and walking on, until he's
nothing but a sound the river sometimes makes when a stone is skipped
where the fire is
This is what
we want you to see: see the two of us brothers out on our dirty river,
this river rusty with mud, us on a rusty bottomed row boat made out of
steel. This boat, it is a boat that our father once told us wasn't fit
to float sardines. We are not minnowy little fish. We are big muddy boys.
We are a couple of muddy brothers out on a rusty boat that's drifting
sideways down a mud rusty river: two mud boys floating between two worlds.
It's only the mud of the river now that is holding us up. For all us brothers
know, or all we care, this river, it could be sky. No, this is not some
kind of dream. No, when the two of us brothers dream, we dream of mud
and Girl. Girl, she is right now somewhere where our eyes cannot see.
But over there, wherever Girl is, the sun, it is sure to be shining. The
sun, right now, it is not shining here on us. Over our heads, in this
sky that is a river all bottom stirry with mud and clouds, zig zags of
light, axes of lightning, chain saws of it, busted bicycle chains of it,
razor down from the sky to light trees and leaning pole barns on fire—white
jags of light slashing down to ignite all of those things made out of
steel: golf clubs, baseball bats, town water towers, smokestacks, electrical
poles, boats up on land and boats out on water. Our boat, with the two
of us brothers on it, we are out on water. Yes, we are out on water but
we are surrounded by, we are brothers about to be swallowed by, sky. This
sky above, the whole river of it, where only moments ago we could still
see blue, it is now nothing but, it's now every bit of it, mud. When we
look up, we could be looking up from underneath the ground, two earth
worms testing the mud to see if it is raining. When the rains start to
hammer on down upon us brothers, buckets of it, barrels of it, whole big
ore boats of it raining down, our boat, which had up to now been filled
up to the gunnels of it with fish-the silver fish bodies glinting the
color and shine of newly made metal-our boat, it is filling up, it is
fastly flowing over first from the rain water and then with river water
and then we, us brothers, and our boat, we begin to sink. Our fish float
out and away back down the river-a basket of birds released into the sky.
Us brothers, we are up to our ankles, we are up to our knee bones, when
we wave good bye to these get away fish and get it in our heads to run.
We run on top of water, through rain and river, across the water we run.
See us brothers running run: running to reach the river's muddy shore:
us brothers running to out run the rivers of light zig zagging down, veins
of it, spikes of it spiking the earth, the dirt, the river, the steel:
bent back nails of hammering light, seeking us brothers out, us brothers,
us who cry out to the sky above, come and try to get us! This, we dare
to dare this, with our fists raised to whatever is up there listening:
running towards those places where the light has lit up all that is dark:
two brothers running to see which brother will get there first: running
until we run ourselves out of breath: running until the light gets its
bead of lightning over both of our boy heads. Boy are we starting to feel
it now: see how the hair on our head stands up at a bristle so that it
might get a closer look. We stop and we turn so that our eyes might get
a good look at it, too-the way the sky swings its hammer right above our
heads. We stop and we turn and we reach out with our hands. Us brothers,
the both of us know, this won't hurt a bit. We hold out our hands, the
rivers there, our knuckles, our palms, filled with singing fish. We open
our eyes wide and we listen to this song. It is a song that says let me
hold your hand. We look around looking for Girl. We see a cloud in the
sky that is the shape of a hand. It is a hand. It is a hand that us brothers,
we watch it reach down to take hold of us by the wrist. We do not try
to do anything to wrestle our hands free. We hold our hands wide open,
with our fingers flared out and wriggling, the backs of our hands backing
up, all the way up, back against the back drop of sky. Our hands against
the sky makes a sound that knuckles make when they knock on wood. What
sound we hear next is not the sound of thunder or of rain water running
down a roof. It is the sound of a voice saying coming. Us boys turn around
to face where this sound is coming from. What we see, when we turn back
to see it, is half the sky: it is opening up: it is a door. Who is it?
we then hear us being asked. It is us, is all us brothers have to say.
It is Girl's voice, we can tell, who is the one doing the asking, and
Girl's hand that is the hand that is opening up this door. Come in, she
tells us. Get out of the rain. You're sopping wet. We do what Girl tells
us to do. We come in out of the sopping rain. There is a fire burning
in the fireplace: there is soup simmering on the stove. Our mother, she
is sweeping the wood floor with a sun flower. She looks over at us sons
and smiles. She looks almost beautiful, happy, with the sun, the sun flower,
in her hands. We come inside, brother followed by brother, water rivering
down our backs. Our boots, wet and muddy, we take them off and set them
by the door. Then we run over to where the fire is and we throw ourselves
We come home
one day after being gone all day long fishing for fish in the river only
to find standing inside of our house people other than us. There is a
mother other than our mother, there is a father other than our father-there
are two boys in our house who are brothers other than us. Our mother and
our father both turn their faces to face the sounds us brothers are making
when we come boots bursting into our house, in through the back door,
and what they say, our mother and our father, not to us but to this other
family other than us is, these are our two boys. Who are they? is what
us brothers say to what we see standing inside our house. This other family,
this other mother and this other father and these two brothers other than
us, they look almost too much like us to be us; it could be us looking
into some sort of a mirror. But they are not us, and we are not them,
and what our father says to us, to our question, who are they? is, he
says to us, his sons, that this is the family that might be moving into
this house. This is our house, Brother points this out. There's not room
enough for all of us inside of this house. That's true, our mother says
to this, and for the first time in a long time, she is actually smiling.
Which is why, our mother tells us, if Mr. and Mrs. Haskins decide that
they want to buy our house from us, then we'll have to find some other
house for us to live in. We like this house, us brothers say to this.
Let them find some other house to live in. Maybe this is a bad time, the
other mother says to our mother. The other father says to our father that
maybe it would be better if they came back another time. Our mother shakes
her head. Our father nods his and says yes, that he'll call them later.
When our father says this, our mother shoots our father this look across
the space that is between them. It's a look that could, with just one
look, turn a muddy river into dirt and ice. Boys, our mother says to us,
looking this look down to us, what do you say you take the Haskins' boys
outside to look at your fish. Us brothers stand across from and we stare
into the eyes of those boys who are brothers not to us. All four of us
brothers, us staring across our house at each other, to our mother saying
that word fish, we each of us boys nod with our heads yes. That sounds
good to us, us brothers say. Outside, we go with these two other boys
out to the back of our back yard, to show them what our mother meant to
say when she said that word fish. Fish? What kind of fish? is what these
brothers ask us. Our fish, is what we tell them, and we lift our hands
up to get these boys to see our back yard telephone pole that is studded
with the hammered in heads of fish. We had a river once, one of these
boys says to this, his head still tilted up. Our river, it was a real
good river for catching fish. Our river is the muddiest river ever made,
is what us brothers tell these boys. So, what are you gonna do? is the
thing that these brothers want to know. How, we hear these brothers saying
to us, are you gonna get them to stay? We look at these brothers. We look
at them the way that we look at our fish. After a while, when we are done
looking at these two brothers, us brothers, we give each other this same
sort of a look. Brother's the brother of us who walks away from this look.
He is going, only I know, to get what we need to get us to stay. I am
the one of us brothers who stays where I am standing. I am facing into
the faces of the other two brothers. I tell them to stand right here,
with your backs backed against the pole, your faces facing the river.
We'll show you the river, I tell them, just as soon as I get back. I go
to where Brother is standing, with a hammer dangling from each one of
his hands. When we get back, these other brothers, they are right where
we left them, right where we told them to stay, with their backs and boot
heels backed up against our fish headed pole. Good, brothers, is what
us brothers say to these boys. Now give us your hands, we tell them. These
brothers do what we say. We are brothers, after all; these boys are more
than just boys. Now this might sting, we tell them, and we take each of
these brothers each by his hand and we hold them up to the pole's wood.
Both of these brothers take the nail to their hand. Like a brother. They
don't wince, or flinch with their bodies, or make with their mouths the
sounds of a brother crying out. Good, brothers, we say this to them again.
We are both of us brothers both of us getting ready to hammer a second
nail into these other brothers' other hands when our mothers and our fathers,
all four of them, step out into the back of our back yard. Sons, our fathers
call us out. All four of us boys, all of us brothers, we turn back our
heads toward the sound of our fathers. It's time to come home, we hear
our mothers say. Us boys, brothers, turn back to face each other. Up above
us, in this sky above the river, in this sky over the mill, the moon,
it is just now beginning to rise and shine. In the light of this light,
us brothers, we raise back our hammers. We line up those rusted nails.
appeared in Black
What We Do
With The Fish After We Gut The Fish
in New Orleans
The Moon Is
A Lighthouse: Revisited previously
appeared in New
We Make Mud
in Barnabe Mountain
Who Walks On Water Comes Home With Two Buckets Of Fish