The Worst Thing Ever Done to Me

By Rodney Jones

I was four,
playing on the front porch.

Early spring.
The mimosa was in bloom.
Eisenhower was in the White House.

Usually when I played, I became a car,
the noises of the engine,
the clutch, and the tires
scorching around corners.

Or my body was a car—my mind drove.

Twilight, a little before supper.
My father, just home from work,
was talking with a neighbor—
a bachelor cousin,
a farmer and minister.

A beautiful little knot
nearly everyone treated like a saint
for the fervor of his prayers
and his epic sermons
on the black children of Cain.

Do not suppose I am not grateful
the worst thing ever done to me
did not involve boiling water, 
electricity, bullwhip, pliers,
starvation, pruning shears, ax,
chain, blackmail, blowjob, or rope.

I was not doped or blown up. I
was not snuffed in a hole.

For the crime of interrupting
a conversation about guano
by mimicking the noise
of an old car backfiring, I
was lifted by the ears and swung like a pig.

I did not scream. I swung,
hurt and confused—what

else could I do? Slip off
my ears like sandals? Channel
Jehovah and smite a preacher
into perdition?

While my father procrastinated,
a millisecond
before the dog deus-ex-machina
sprang up from the yard
to save me.

I am not saying it
was not justice
to see him,
the beautiful little knot,
grabbed by the throat,
brought down and squirming
as he prayed
to my father to call off the dog.

I am not saying it was not righteous.

There were still
a few minutes of light
darkening in the mimosa.

I could hear chicken frying,
then the noise of the cold
engine turning over—

again. Again. Again,
and I started. I ran. I
was not destroyed.

Rodney Jones is the author of ten poetry books; he has received the National Books Critics Circle Award, the Harper Lee Award, the Jean Stein Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. His most recent book is Village Prodigies (Mariner Books, 2017). He lives in New Orleans and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College.

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