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Mark Lilley




The road to my friend’s house runs

along the east side of the Licking River.

On summer days you might find boys

fishing on the lower banks

or roughhousing knee-deep and shirtless

in the cold, dark waters.

Standing on the levee at dawn,

after the fog has lifted

and dispersed over the valley,

you can see soot from the factory furnaces,

a vaporous sludge hovering

over the men and women as they walk out,

another graveyard shift behind them,

another eight hours straining glue

from the pits of the tipple-tower,

until the glue is molded and shaped

into a teapot or white-winged dove,

the bargain trinkets boxed and shipped

to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.


The final time we spoke,

my friend was on his way home

from the factory. His voice was hoarse.

We talked about bosses, baseball,

that night he climbed the water tower

to spray-paint his declaration of teenage love.

He chided me again for moving away,

for leaving our hometown and selling out

in the big city, and I said something

about regret, and there was silence

that he filled with a yawn,

and if rest is the proper word

then maybe my friend can rest now.


Death, when slow and certain, is considerate.

When I was a boy and my father got sick,

he had six months to write a letter,

enough time to explain why

he refused to marry my mother,

and why for weeks he would disappear

without taking a change of clothes.

Instead, on his deathbed he gave me a book

about Crosley Field, and told me a story

about watching the Red Legs sweep

the Cardinals in a double-header,

the memory of rookie lefthander, Joe Nuxhall

staring down the great Stan Musial,

and how he wished I would have been there

to see the audacity of youth.

For thirty years I’ve kept that book in a shoebox

with my baseball cards and silver dollars.


Maybe all that survives is the language

of forgiveness, and maybe

the language of forgiveness

need not be written or spoken or sung.

When my friend’s daughter heard the noise

from her upstairs bedroom,

she thought it was a glass breaking.

She never heard a gunshot before,

except on television or in the movies,

and this sounded different than that.

When her mother yelled,

Don’t come downstairs, your dad hurt himself,

she thought he had cut his hand,

and then, How bad could it be?


Later this morning at Sacred Heart

I will recite the Holy Rosary,

and after praying for my friend’s soul

maybe I will hear back

from the God I seldom believe in,

the God I taught my children to disbelieve.

Maybe I will see his plates on fire

and spinning, one for each child forgotten

or fondled or slapped around,

one for each child shot up or safely buckled

and driven into a lake,

and one for my friend’s daughter,

a child spared by her father

as best he could.


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