The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Margo Berdeshevsky

Ends Of The Rain






"... These things happen...the soul's bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses...

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew."
            (from "Twilight: After Haying," by Jane Kenyon)


Once upon a time, rains thrashed and pounded against windows, deafening as needles on corrugated tin, wild as branches tearing to ragged whips      and then it stopped and there was black silence, no stars. And then, there were stars.

Silence, the word like a boulder, stayed. First, it was a good silence. And then it was not. There would be No crying. No tickling. No giggling.

Two small naked sons, fists like granite, were trying to be brave. No crying. A command. Not a move. Not a single twitch. They nodded.

Everything inside and outside went numb. Outside, even the thrush had given up. Shut her dry beak over a swallowed stone, would not sing of what she'd seen again, or what she would: the dim window, the small boys cornered, and a woman called “godmother,” her staccato shadow. The blind, closing. The dark room with its promise. The thrush with a golden song could see, and was silent.

In a shut room, the boys lay back to back and squeezed their eyes into sealed boxes. Bodies, under a burlap throw, they loosened their small fists and touched each other’s fingertips—just. This was their only assurance. If either one of them were to make a single solitary move, thunder would come. It would be shaped like their father, the bad god, and he would come, and they might be killed. Those were the rules they were given each time, and they knew them. It had happened before.

This time they would be very good.

It was the godmother who tied them. The fairy godmother their father had welcomed into their lives. Call her “godmother,” he demanded. And so they obeyed.

The godmother, glassy-eyed, tall, her chilled skin wrapped in a dark green kimono, stepped nearly on tippy-toes, delicate on spindle-thin shoes, ash trailing ash from a Marlboro between orange-bright lips ... while she pulled cords around the two small bodies. Closed the blind, and she stared at their eyes. They could not blink, they could not answer, they had better not cry. She stared at them until they shut down, both at the same instant, instinct of animals to avoid the aggressor's eyes. Wordless, they listened to the closet key, wordless, listened to the thud of a second door, and then the slick grey quiet came, it lasted and lasted.

Put away, only the thrum of their two small hearts remained. They weren't bad, they had repeated; but it did no good.

Outside, the stilled thrush had listened; she had no plan. Sharpened her claws on the bark. Sharpened her beak.


This is your test, the bad god had told his sons. Boys need tests. I won’t return for any reason, unless . . . They knew what unless meant. It had happened before.

The bad god was their daddy. The fairy woman, his newest bride. Bad and good were one and the same in a closed room with no sounds. But the bad god had the same blood as they had. Same fingers, same emerald eyes, same fair hair. His bride didn't. She was a fairy godmother who had not come to help.

They wouldn't thwart their father. They'd promised. The tickling and the giggling—which was how they used to make the terrible long hours mute into fog and pass, were gone. Just a tiny move. Just a way to get through it. A fingertip of touch. For unity, for belonging to someone.


The bad god had seen everything; he could see, and he said No, that’s not permitted either, you know better. Said, Don't you know how to be good? They blinked like puppets.

Tests. Don't you know how boys are supposed to grow strong, and good? They nodded, sunflowers about to break on their stems, after a drought. And they had been hurled to the terrible place again, where they couldn't save each other, so better not think about it. Better not try. Better wait for the good god, who might come. Or a guy in a good-guy mask.

They'd know if he did, by the marching, by incense smoke like a thin stream, pungent as it snaked under the locked door and into their lungs. They'd know because he might begin singing, or he might even begin to pray. Snake in, coat them in the dark and corded place and they'd blink to alertness. Then yes, they might hear him humming, yes, a melody they had all once . . . just once . . . and then they might see the barest outline of his wide brimmed hat.

Kindness. There could be kindness, if he came, they might be pulled out again. Soiled, speechless, but punished for long enough.


If he didn't come, and he might not, their two small hearts kept thrumming back to back against each other. Little boys bound and closeted for long enough, as usual. Their father was always the god. And they never knew which one would come. Good-guy mask or bad.

The godmother opened her front door. A breeze. On a high branch, just outside the dim rooms, the thrush unfurled her wings, then refolded them, opened them once again, for lifting. Her flight had a single destination, and a single return. With the vengeance of the wronged, she went for the godmother's eyes.


The brothers wakened. Bare skin against skin. A Monday. Birdsong, silenced forever, was suddenly—there just out there      it had begun again so suddenly. Patiently etched on its thinned and ragged branch outside, its voice opened now like a full sky, the brothers listened to it and to nothing else. It knew everything, and had it done the impossible?


The bad god was painted head to toe in his own blood. He'd done battle for them, this time. That's what he announced. That woman who hurt them, “godmother,” was blinded and banished, he said.

The good god apologized to them. It will never happen again, that's a promise. Their daddy would be good. They had to believe him. They were his sons. Taught how to be boys. And strong.

The thrush was stabbing with her whetted beak, just behind the shut blind. As though she could break in and make a grander difference. Her lovely song like a loving eye.

Now, their daddy washed them. His huge flat hands circled them. Stroked. Slowly scrubbed them. Added warmer water to their tub. Let it run so gently, smoothly across their thin spines. Scrubbed slower, large, then smaller and smaller circles. Leaned deeper into the water. Touched them each, and both. Slower strokes. Faster. Slower. Faster. And then without control.

They all closed their eyes. And they hummed a marching song all together. Later, dried, covered, combed, warmed, he allowed them, just for this once, each, to try on one of his wide hats.

This time would be the last, he said. And that woman was never returning, he said. She was no godmother, after all. He'd made a mistake, he said. Big men admit their mistakes. Do you understand? he asked them. They nodded, like toys with a metal coiled spring. It was a promise he said he would keep. She would never live in their house again. It would never happen again. The time of assassins and thugs was all over.

And so the bad god was gone, too. And their father was good.

Only in their dreams, the boys wanted to fight someone, hit someone badly. That would not be permitted, because there was only one another.

The thrush resumed her song, like rains after a long pause.


In a town such as theirs, people asked as few questions as the animals or the birds. The grown-up brothers never spoke of that time—before. They had made it another rule. It would never happen again. And they believed their father.

One man survived better than the other. One had grown to be a slow and seething male whose gaze and curses were mute. He frightened the neighbors. The other one seemed to be waiting all the time. Would lean against a tree, a wall, in a doorframe, tapping his fingertips together. Nothing more.

Those emerald-eyed brothers, people thought; and then they turned away to sweep their own front porches, to pull their weeds, to kill another vermin before it had babies in the wet seasons.

The good daddy who had saved them continued to wear his wide hats; he hummed more and more often, and more off-key, the pitch rising as he grew very old. When he died the brothers saw his spirit lift. They nodded.

Silently now, each brother put on one of their daddy’s wide hats. At his funeral, the corpse thus honored, the brothers, not speaking, wept.

Outside, in an airless and unaccustomed heat, stars of the Pleiades moved down a midnight sky.

Now the brothers stood outside their house where they had learned to bear with one another, and to turn away; their house where they had learned to look at their father and to say no more. To look away. Stood outside their kitchen step now, and spoke to all their ancestors in turn, and in that silence, were heard. As though stars were the bones of their departed ghosts. They didn't know from where. . .such a thought had come.

Even in the dark now, they heard the thrush, singing.

Their dead father's hats hung on hammered nails in the kitchen hall. Now their god who was good and their god who was bad had joined night and its million bones. They watched the sky like hunters, scanning for birds. Saw that spirit, how it had lifted out of him, and up. How it had moved toward the white-eyed stars.

They stood back to back, and they looked away. They could not leave one another, or stay. They could nor remember or forget. He had not been good at all. He had been their father and their torturer.

Unbidden as grief, a thunderous rain erased all the stars.

There were only the two of them, as there had been in the twisted and tied dark. As there had been in the warm tubs of water. And like a hurricane without warnings, they turned with their arms raised, and fist after fist, they beat one another into blood. Beat and beat and beat at what was left of one another. There was no one else to hurt under that rain.

Their father's funeral was holy. The box was closed. He saved us, one brother said at the very last to the other, who moved so slowly, and then at last, moved away.


In a quiet street lodged miles apart from that town, now the patient brother stared at his screen; tapped his fingertips one against another, and waited. Such loneliness had no name. He hummed a marching song over his tea; fell asleep again beside the screen's grayed glow. Left a cigarette alive.

“Thug.” He'd circled a word on a torn page of newsprint. Very interested in that short word; very interested by violent men; didn't remember much at all; thought about his brother, then turned to his wall.

Good guy. The thought was allowed to go no further than the word "brother." Eliminated that thought; it burned a small dark room in his heart into char and dust. Left it closeted and eliminated.

The time of assassins and torturers and thugs was almost over. That's what most people wanted to believe. And godmothers were for fairy tales.

The brother stretched and returned to his screen and watched some uniformed men apologizing. Some soldiers. Some presidents. A king. Then he watched some men who'd been tortured. They unbuttoned their shirts to show purple scars. He switched the channels by remote. Some cars burning down to charred animal ribs. Some kind of a riot. Some weeping. Some men's words. He was sleepy. He dozed again. Left another smoke red and alive.

He began to have no reasons at all. Like the end of godmothers. Fathers. Bodies. Tied. Like the ends of the rain. No crying. Not a move. Not a single twitch. And then there were stars.




MARGO BERDESHEVSKY's newest poetry collection is Before The Drought, (Glass Lyre Press/2017.) An early version was finalist for the National Poetry Series. Her other books: Between Soul & Stone, and But a Passage in Wilderness (Sheep Meadow Press.) Her illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, received the first Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award, (FC2/University of Alabama Press.) Other honors: the Robert H. Winner Award from Poetry Society of America. Journals where she has published include Plume, New Letters, Southern Humanities Review, Gulf Coast, & Agni. She lives in Paris. Please do see this:



Previous | Next