The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Rachel Custer

Mother

 

I’m not ashamed of anything I have or haven’t done.
Not that it’s your business, or anybody’s, really. Though
it’s nothing the whole county doesn’t already know.
I have four daughters. A son. A different daddy for
each one. And every one of them pays me. I’m no fool.
The other parents bring their kids to school, and to
games and playdates, and I hear the things they say.
Listen: I’ve been stuck in this town, in this life,
in this name and all the names they name me, I’ve
been stuck being the person they believed since
I was just a child. Since I was just a pregnant child.
Who are they? They’re nothing but a bunch of mice
the cat didn’t catch. When have they ever talked
about how I do my job, pay my bills, how I own
my little house outright? I’ve never had the chance
to follow myself along a winding path that led me
to a place I knew was mine. With five kids? I’ve just
never had the time. So I work, at a place they all know,
so I drink, at a place they all know, so I live, in a place
they all know, with my children and our different names.
So sometimes I have a visitor; it’s my house. A boy
and his rough touch can become, for a while, a path
that leads somewhere new. Sometimes, a boy can
be another place to live, for a moment, for a person
who will never leave. What credit do I get for never
leaving? When did my story stop being mine to tell?

 

 

Rachel Custer

Soldier

 

Everybody keep talking about war like they
know war. Like war’s they friend, they family,
closer than blood. Come on in, pull up a piece
of fake hardwood floor, and warm you by
the fire. Bring them kiddos, too. Trust us,
we don’t mind the more the merrier we count
success by each guest we serve. Everybody
keep talking about war like war is a sweet dog
who lives somewhere in the neighborhood.
You hunker down in the street when you see
‘im you maybe toss him a treat. He’s a good
dog just don’t wanna be owned. Everybody
call ‘im by a different name and ‘e goes where
‘e goes. And war is that. But anybody who ever
loved him a dog knows this: a dog who don’t
wanna be owned is a dog you can’t trust with
your children. War comes to your door sometime
pantin’ like ‘e thirsty, and you turn toward
the kitchen sink. His eyes laughin’ behind you
all the time. War the type to pad right up close
to anything you own and dance away down
the street with you meat in ‘is jaws. War
is more than a sweet li’l puppy scrounging
for scraps; war is a dog who knows what
‘e needs cuz ‘e knows what ‘e’s never had, he
knows any night he might have to go without.
And your child’s hand rests in his gentle jaws.

 

 

 

RACHEL CUSTER has been previously published in Rattle, [PANK], BlazeVOX, Literary Orphans, and burntdistrict, among others. 

 

 

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