My brother bends one at a time
the stand of lean saplings into a shelter
in the forest where we play. He works hard.
roofing with sod he carves from a grassy place
beyond the trees. With a piece of discarded lumber
he scrapes the dirt floor until it favors the brown-glass
beer bottles we find on the highway, load into our wagon,
and redeem for 2 cents each at the only store in town.
I work too:
sweeping with a tree-branch broom
foraging for the right leaves
for pretend food, and the right twigs
for forks, and the right rocks for chairs.
Not once during our busy day
does my brother raise his voice to me,
though our father’s words hammering our mother
must echo in his head. We sit in our playhouse at the lip
of Hubble Creek like a quiet old couple, our shared secrets
not even a whisper between us, unconcerned about our neighbors,
the copperheads and cottonmouths that hide in their own dark places.
At our real home a thick black belt
coils around our father’s waist,
ready with its hiss and bite and sting.
And though the red of evening
starts a slow burn in our empty bellies,
we are in no hurry to get back there.