Rick Marlatt
Rick Marlatt

My Purgatory

The night my son was born I sat in an abandoned waiting area on furniture the color of various strands of vomit. On top of a microwave that didn’t have a power chord were three wrinkly yellow books: Gardening and You, Simplifying Your Home, and Cancer Ward. Above, a picture of a deer drinking from a stream in the woods. I thought about the tough pungency of venison. I thought about the advent of the bow & arrow, how it escalated our consumption of meat, how it advanced the evolution of our brains. I’m not much of a hunter. I turned on the TV. It was a clock. The TV was showing a clock. No music. Just a clock. I watched. The small hand pointed toward the 4 while the big hand waved something obscene. I wanted to ask time how it felt to be judged solely by the expression of its face. Did it have a soul? There I was, a few short hours before fatherhood. There was no voice. No Sound. There was no one around. I had found a dead zone that existed somewhere between the end of my youth & the beginning of his. Wretchedness & innocence in the same circle. When he came out he was purple, slick with human fluid. His head was shaped like a cone. My little eggplant in the rain. We’ve been best pals ever since.

The Orchard

We were summer.
We knew the sun was no absent father
Who hid behind the clouds,
the oak tree was a mountain
we’d climb in the morning
to get to the top of ourselves,
then down again.

It was always the sky, weightless at dawn,
then swelling with hours of lavender time,
that gave us a humid heaviness to pray to
above the green grass blades,
the mulberry bushes,
the lilac worlds we wrestled with.

And baseball, the eagle in our blood,
the chartered stone of our past,
held our bones fast in the hot moments
of practice swings, curveballs, dirty jokes.

The apple, peach, and pear trees marking the bases,
marking the cadence of our breath.
Cool, wet apple chunks were our tobacco,
we’d gnash away a chunk,
laugh as its juice darted into our lives,
then spit it back into the earth like sons do.
Emerald corn plants were the breathless crowd,
Sunflowers, pungent and sticky, shaped
the warning track before the finality of the highway.

The ball, struck deep during a hush, hung in the sky,
ravenous chiggers nipped and gnawed at our ankles
as we stretched a single into a double,
stretched a minute into an hour, a day,
a childhood, dreaming of a day that came too soon.

We carved our initials into an elm leaf,
delicately folded it under our heads,
nestled down together as night began to fall.
When we woke it was winter,
guilt had grown in healthy patches on our cheeks,
our eyes had yellowed like river lily.
And we had forgotten the names of bench players.
Our field had fallen in on itself, swallowed down.
The pears had fallen into the grass. Bruised, bleeding,
they melted into our distant hollers. The apples wore
a brown wound with tiny worms warm inside,
the peaches piled into mush below the shadows
of the oak, then froze to a pulp the size of fate.

The leaf had crusted and crumbled, the crown
wasn’t pointing, and the sky was grey and faceless.
Regret, deep-seeded, flowering with hollow pedals
garners stamina below the surface, feeding
on the innocence that was squandered.

Still, the minutes were real.
Still, the game was good.
And in the long memory the orchard,
still, I think of you, and I smile.