The Empty Air Times Nine

Stevie Edwards


If you extracted the hills and the Ithacan
headshops and white-dreadlocks,
you could fool western New York
into the guise of southern Michigan.
A twenty-minute drive from here is the city
for which my hometown was named
that must be named for something else still:

Lansing. No matter what latinate words
I learn in textbooks and thesauruses
the nasal vowels of home still haunt
my cadence: relocate, dislocate, get
the fuck out of Michigan: this
is what it means to be from
but not of: a courted homelessness.

The sugar maple trees here flame
brilliant before barren so similar in drama
to the silver maples of my childhood
I could almost mistake their rustling
for my own but know the leaves
I was raised under the heat of
had more ragged teeth.

My older brother says he doesn't know
what flicker he has fashioned himself after
but thinks some familiar terror
has driven us out of the fertile swampland
we spent our youth shoveling in
with mounds of free fill dirt from builders,
carefully removing shards of green glass
with our caanvas gloved hands.

When we moved from the inside
to the outside of the city,
I wept at sight of the brow-high grasses
that would become lawn,
and when the weeds and trees were cleared
for a manageable verdure, I wept
for how far we'd come from my first friend
who was still sunny-legged in the neighborhood
I hadn't learned not to love.

This was before I knew my brother
was proffered Parliaments in the front seats
of the bus ushering him to kindergarten at Wainwright
or that my cousin would learn more of manhood
than biology at Sexton High School
where tough men, who would not fight
through two tours of war like him,
beat his autistic brother in spurned hallways
for daring to not be dead, to be persistent
in his not hard, not normal.

In the front yard, there must have been joy
rooting those mighty trunks into the constant 
damp earth, I think. There were forts, 
lean-tos of fallen branches 
insulated with dark mud and leaves 
we dug up with bare hands, my brother and I, 
before we were charting escape routes 
solitarily in our separate snug quarters.