My dad’d freak if he knew I played
with it, but I can’t help myself. And
I’m not hurting anybody.
The bullets are across the room
in his sock drawer. The Glock is by
the bed, same place as the condoms.
I like to hold it in my hand. Everything
gets sharper, I don’t know why.
I feel skinnier instead of just this big
bag of fries and Coke and pepperoni.
If I take off my clothes, it’s cool
on my skin.
I’d never hurt anybody but if I did
this is how I’d do it—butt naked.
And I’d start in the gym. They wouldn’t
laugh then, would they? The jocks would
crap their pants. The girls’d kiss my fat
My father came here with his parents when
he was ten. In the boat, there was room
for two to sleep, so they took turns
By 1980 they owned a small market.
By 1990 three more. My mother and father
often worked twenty hours a day. I started
stocking shelves at age six.
Everybody warned against black people,
but who turned out to be full of hatred
for our prosperity? Others like us, some
from a village not five kilometers away
from where my mother was born.
Father does not want me to forget the country
I have never seen. Every day an hour of
Vietnamese only. Then another of music
with traditional instruments.
He wants me to be richer than he, more
successful. Yet he begrudges one hundred
dollars for the ugly new glasses I need.
His dreams are like a box I cannot put down.
Dad drifts in about three a.m. a couple of nights
ago, and I’m just finishing up Dog Day Afternoon
for the nineteenth time.
He’s still a little faded and sometimes that
makes him all paternal, so he gets us a couple
of beers. I’ve seen this before when he’s shot
some pretty good pool and some hootchie’s
told him he looks like Harrison Ford.
Things are gonna change, he says. There’s
gonna be a lunch for me to take to school
every day, sandwiches with that brown
mustard. No more doing his laundry.
And you know that dog I always wanted?
Part of me wants it to be true so bad my teeth
hurt. But I’m not holding my breath.
"So how’s school?"
Here we go.
After he calls me stupid about ten times,
I split. I run for like a block but I’m totally
out of shape, so I just walk until I stop wanting
to kill him. Then I crash in the basement.
A thirty-nine-year-old man in California
drives his Cadillac into a playground
and kills two kids because he wanted
to execute innocent children.
That isn’t a sign of social collapse?
Twenty-five million teenagers go to
twenty thousand schools in the U.S.
Ten kids, TEN KIDS, in seven schools
did all the shooting, ALL OF IT,
In the same two years, grownups
in southern California alone massacred
I know what I’m talking about. I did
research for this paper I had to write.
I got a B- because my report "wasn’t
Really? Could that be because when I
was typing it my stepfather kept trying
to massage my shoulders because I looked
I’ve told him I hate that. I’ve told my mom.
She says he’s just being friendly.
The Brimstone Journals. Copyright (c) 2001 Ron Koertge. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA
Excerpted from The Brimstone Journals by Ron Koertge. Copyright © 2004 by Ron Koertge. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.