Guilt Study

by Philip Berry

eighteen eyes on me now
lids closing
like they’re ready to pray

craters in the wall, bleeding
brick dust, leaking sideways
in the evening breeze

gun spray in a border town
for a long minute it felt good
the shoulder-shudder of absolute power

high to my left a window the size of an eye
glass thick as a lake’s frozen crust
cut it out, haul it back
collecting pink sun in a soft corner

father was happy there
the last ice farmer on Lake Hopatcong
before the shed burned and pushed up at the night
come sunrise the blocks were melting
in ash coats
and he never knew

have I been bad?
tell me: I can’t read your goddamn minds
am I in trouble here?

mother’s vase
turquoise design, fat leaves
I ran fat kid fingers across the emboss
trying to understand beauty
it fell through my fingers like opportunity
fragments underfoot
also bone and some tissue
glitter-boned
the blade I honed
and carried
and used

I can mend it
I can hide it

Then yelling, slamming

father’s steel lips through a screen of tears
knocked out a new back tooth, then slipped a boozy dime
under my sweated pillow, like I still believed in fairies.

found me by the river
two days from the border
one from the pueblo
lying in shadow, mud-caked
cold, purple dye splattered across neck and cheek
pockets stuffed with coloured cash
and three random lives

open your eyes
look at me
suits & ties
touch my hand
the chopping side
like fine grit sandpaper
for finishing off a desk a chair
I can work wood, I learned it here
I can be useful

is that bed for me?
it looks hard
are you a doctor?
am I ill?
I don’t feel ill

here, this is my one good vein
take all that you need
I’m not afraid of needles
never was.

Artist: Osnat Tzadok

Philip’s poems have appeared in Lucent Dreaming, Black Bough, Lunate Fiction and Re-side among others. He also writes flash, CNF and books for children. He lives in London and works as a doctor.

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