The Boy on the Ridge

By Michael Pearce

Featured Art: Precarious Glimmering, a Head Suspended from Infinity, plate 3 of 6 by Odilon Redon, 1891

I rode my bike down from Pilgrim Hill
toward the river that splits our town.
Along the way I waved to Sheriff Roy
and Mildred Floss, then wondered what
they were saying about me and my family.

It was fall and the road was littered
with goose shit and hyena shit and
shit-shadows shrinking in the rising sun,
and Estelle was bringing milk and muffins
to Mayor Bob’s bedside and pretending
his soul was alive inside its doltish husk
and my Noni was sitting in the bathtub
like a pile of wet clothes while Grappa
lay in bed dreaming of blood-hungry Cossacks
cruising the Steppe on thundering horses
and the town was still quiet enough
that you could hear the river’s bashful giggle.
I was headed to my shop
to build a desk for McElroy.

Up on Pilgrim Hill my mother’s voice
had spoken to me from her grave
in the Jewish section, had told me
about a little boy of few delights
and many sorrows who roams the high ridge
where Dorsell Quivers chases fox and deer.
My mother’s voice said only she
can see that little boy right now,
but he’ll saunter down and climb into
the belly of a comely maiden
as soon as I’m ready to be his dad.

I don’t want a boy of many sorrows,
I was such a boy and my heart
isn’t big enough to bear another,
to blaze the cul-de-sac of his youth
or watch his terror of his own hungry body
and the other demons of his undoing
hound him from his destiny.

But the voice of my mother who is
in death still taller and wiser than me
told me that my demons aren’t
the only ones that haunt this valley
and that my feral future boy has
a destiny beyond my knowing
not to mention my days on this earth.

And yes my mom is always right
and this was no exception but
I think I’ll wait a while before
I climb the Hill to visit her again
even though her nagging voice is
my one solace in this painful time.

I pushed forward on my bike
rode the bumpy rhythms of Skelter Lane
down to the south side where I was born
and where I will remain. I have to make
that desk for McElroy and a fancy
toilet seat for Lenny Schacter, and
my own destiny lies here on the south side
like a coiled python poised
to squeeze and swallow and digest.

I’ll keep dancing with that snake
as long as I can, and I will make
a toilet seat like no other, cocobolo
mortised tight then jigsawed oval
and inlaid with hyenas of birdseye maple
chasing zebrawood zebras,
and on the lid the ashen face of
that boy who is a dead ringerfor my dad, the Pale Man.

Michael Pearce’s poems and stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, Spillway, Epoch, The Yale Review, Conjunctions, and elsewhere, and have won several national prizes (New Ohio Review, Dogwood, Oberon, Bosque, and others). His collection of poems, Santa Lucia by Starlight, won the Brighthorse Prize in Poetry and will be published by Brighthorse Books in late 2020. He lives in Oakland, California, and plays saxophone in the Bay Area band Highwater Blues.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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