I stared at the stain on the wall, safe in my anonymity.
I in my usual seat, the lucky one.
My brothers having nowhere to look, no place to hide their fear
clinging to invisibility like cockroaches on fine china
staring down at their laps.
Always risky…either invisible or not paying attention.
No way to know,
no way to tell if the boys would pass for decorations
or be crushed underfoot
But safer than looking at Father–and maybe catching the attention of those brown eyes.
brown as a roach’s back. Brown as the stain.
Me? I already knew those eyes.
I stared at the stain.
It was a growing thing, a life, an entity, the expanding offspring of an unchaste
and spermless conception,
a sixth member of the family,
living on the dining room wall.
The size of my head at birth–
except where a gravy umbilical dripped towards the floor.
That was a couple years ago.
Back then it looked like nothing…Back then I wasn’t me
It was just a gravy stain on the dining room wall.
A stain made when a stew tasting more of cabbage than beef
along with Grandma Emm’s blue delft gravy boat
smashed against that very same wall,
Letting Grandma Emm,
80 at passing and
give up her porcelain uterus to help birth a new member of her family:
a stain growing on the dining room wall…
Behind Mother, where only I could stare.
Now it looked like things…
different things as it grew…
and it changed.
Sometimes you had to peek at it from the corner of your eye
to see anything more than a stain on the wall.
Sometimes it was as precise as the crunch of a car tire when a cat dodged
the wrong way…
A paint tube opened at the wrong end…
As Father flung more and more and ever more dishes at that wall
like some Jackson Pollock inspired artist possessed by the muse of the abstract,
flinging food and crockery across the canvas of our dining room wall in a mad
in the end,
futile effort to say something
even he could not explain.
The stain grew.
One night it looked like a chaotic gerbil in a Pope’s hat clawing at a delicate fairy that had
only one arm.
That one made me want to cry,
but I didn’t.
After all, it was just a stain.
The night before it had been a lawn gnome orgy,
when the next meal met with disapproval,
it would look like something else.
But not that night.
The meal was served and nothing was flung…and I knew…
I knew that I would get to stare at that doomed fairy for at least another night.
Father tasted, and chewed, and swallowed, and grunted.
He grunted like a hog, I thought to myself…
and then look furtively away as if Father could read my thoughts.
Maybe he could.
At least every time I mustered up the courage to look at him while thinking such things,
it was to find his stain colored cockroach eyes already staring into mine,
a disdainful sneer curling his lip.
“Well? What are you waiting for?
A goddamned invitation to eat?
Dig in, you little bastards.”
We fell to,
not really tasting what was on our plates.
It was not food.
It was just paint.
Just a doorway to another day.
Mother had to wait until everyone had been served before she herself sat down to eat.
Her hands would shake when she ate
and Father would growl at her every time
her silverware clattered against her plate.
Then he would somehow sneer disdainfully and smile smugly at the same time…
telling her that she was right to be afraid…
that all of us were right to be afraid.
Mother had to stop eating when the first person finished their meal,
clearing plates, washing dishes,
checking each thing she washed for anything left…
even fingerprints must be wiped away
All signs, that is, except the stain.
Weren’t nothing gonna get that off.
Sometimes I swore that Father ate fast enough to give himself a belly-ache
just so he could finish before she had a chance to eat.
Some nights were good.
Dinner was acceptable–never worthy of praise or a thank you.
The immaculate house got only cursory complaints about dust that wasn’t there.
You know why hogs wallow in their own shit?
Cause they like it!
The TV shows he liked were on,
even though the commercials made him grunt in protest.
Family afraid so still and silent.
He could make us near piss ourselves
by just raising an eyebrow…
as if he had just seen something…
something that was not how he wanted it.
He waited until we were nearly whimpering…
then the commercials ended and the eyebrow lowered back to its usual place.
He’d chuckle quietly to himself.
I hated him more than usual when he did that,
Hated that fat, happy, grunting hog.
As we needed more reminding of how sharp-edged was the razor-blade tightrope
A hog happy in his shit.
Maybe it would be a good night.
Maybe no one would be beat.
Maybe we wouldn’t have to close our eyes and pretend we were somewhere else
as we heard to the heavy, meaty smack of flesh on flesh,
so much like the sound of her heavy rolling pin
when Mother beat out a ball of pie crust.
Mother’s pleading cries for forgiveness for sins she never done!
Sometimes she got hard to understand,
as her false teeth would clatter on the floor,
like the toe bones of something dead and gone.
But he wouldn’t leave marks.
No stains…leastways not on her face.
Those were bad nights.
Those were the nights that nightmares are made of,
but not the worst.
The worst nights were those in which the door would open on our bedroom, the tiny room
I shared with my younger brothers.
Father would be standing in the doorway nude,
his hard, blunt penis swaying, bobbing, pointing,
One potato, Two potato, Three potato, Four…
shining with a thick film of lard by the light my youngest brother’s
He would stand there for what seemed like hour after hour…
looking from face to face,
knowing what each of us was thinking.
“Is it going to be my turn tonight?”
“No! Please, God, let it be Robin! Let it be Paul!”
“Please, God, let it be someone else!”
It was always the same,
didn’t make a difference if you were ten like me or only five like Robin.
On your belly!
Spread them legs!
Then that sharp pain that was a stab and a burn and a punch in the stomach but deep inside all at once
as he took what wasn’t his to take.
He grabbed us tight–like any of us was strong enough to get away–
He would mount! fuck! bang! hump! bugger! rape! sodomize! heave! pump! copulate! fornicate! nail! hammer! screw!
The hog would pork…makin’ bacon
He grunted his hoggy grunts those nights.
but I didn’t have to avert my eyes.
My face was buried in a tear-stained pillow that did little to muffle my screams.
We could hear Mother on the other side of the wall,
rocking in her chair,
pity but no rescue to offer,
pretending not to notice was happening,
what always happened on the other side of the wall.
But it was okay.
We all learned the trick.
The trick of turning off your mind while he fucked you and just be someplace else,
a quiet place inside your head.
I’d picture the stain…
and then that brown stain would turn red…
and gray and all wet…
and something more I can’t say.
He’d pull out with a ‘pop’ and, in a voice as full of contempt,
as if we were the ones who had forced ourselves on him,
would tell us to get up and go wash ourselves for God’s sake.
Even if it wasn’t your turn that night, you still had to fall asleep remembering.
Remembering that you had just prayed.
Prayed to God!
To Heaven, to Jesus…
To the Holy Virgin Mary…
To the Savior…
The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost!
that it be your baby brother that got fucked instead of you…
and worst of all…that you had meant it.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
but I couldn’t forgive.
We had to change the sheets when it was our night.
Under them, the mattress was stained.
Stained with blood, and piss, and the other stuff.
The stuff that ran down the inside of your legs
’cause you were too stretched to hold it in.
The sperm that had made you once and then
remade you into something else night after
I tried real hard not to look at those stains.
At school, they told us to tell.
On the TV they told us to tell.
Police and Priests told us to tell.
Father warned us never to tell.
I told once.
I went down to the Parish and went into the Confessional,
its once velvety cushion shiny and stained,
with several generations of penitent behinds.
I told what I’d sworn never to tell.
Father had said he’d kill Mom and then each of us,
making the one who told watch all the others go
before he allowed that one to follow.
But I told. I should’a known.
There’s a reason they call the priests “Father”.
The priest said I needed comfort and called me to him.
I left my side of the confessional and joined him in his.
It was a special treat.
I’d always wondered what his side looked like.
It was disappointing.
Pretty much like the other side with a softer seat.
But there were worms.
His fingers, cold and damp like worms wiggling…
Wriggling their way up the leg of my shorts.
Mushy worms rubbing my belly under my shirt.
Him telling me that I would burn in hell if I told.
Worms, warm and suffocating over my mouth
and his wet, slobbery whispers to keep quiet in my ear.
I went to God for help…and he sent me worms.
I didn’t know where to go once I reached a bus station.
The one that I don’t need to bother describing,
because you’re already picturing it in your head.
I hadn’t had much of a plan beyond making it to somewhere else
faster than the police.
The Chicken Hawks descended like flies on old meat.
I can recognize them now, but not back then.
Even if I could have, where else was I going
to find a smile and a place to sleep?
It was okay now.
I never knew I had it in me
to do the thing I done.
But Mother is safe now.
My little brothers are safe now.
If someone had to pay the cost,
this time I didn’t pray that it not be me.
I stand here and wait and look at the stain.
There are plenty of stains on the walls behind me,
left there by everything from paint cans to piss,
but I don’t look at none of them.
I have to look inside myself to see it now,
if I squeeze my eyes real tight and go away
like I used to do when Father fucked me,
I can kinda see the stain.
I can’t tell for sure, but it looks a little bit bigger now than it did,
when I got off that bus a year ago.
Anyways I gotta go.
A car just turned round the corner a second time,
rental plates and a single business suit-type guy
behind the wheel driving slow…
I sometimes wonder if they can see the stain too.