BY MAX MCDONOUGH
Back before the season of pills and grill smoke,
before my youngest brother’s head
gets beat through drywall and into a stud.
Before the framework of that house is even up,
half-built lumber ribcage, the beams dampened
red in the morning fog and one bending
slightly when my mother pushes into it hard
with her whole body, saying it’s got to be
tested. Before the digging, the foundation
carved into the plot cleared of all the kissing
trees—great oak, white cedar—beheaded
and eaten by the jaw of a dozer. Before the comb
of saws splitting the harvested trunks,
the harvester and his truck, his cigarette long lit.
I can go hours like this,
putting plants back in the ground.
BY MAX MCDONOUGH
Hard to recall my little brother’s failed attempt
without the moon’s white ash
through pinholes in the wind-drift
tissue of pitch pine needles, porous,
alien as a netting of gills overhead.
I’ve followed our night path back to the abandoned
living room set, where he’s already swallowed
the bottle of ibuprofen, extinguished
his flashlight, capsized belly-down, groaning
incoherent as mist
on the wet couch cushions. He doesn’t
recognize me. He doesn’t jerk his leg when I grip
above his knee and clamp. I’m shouting his name
in circles. I’m shouting his name years later
still a child shaking my brother alive
in these woods, needing his sneaker-prints
in the damp ground, needing the padding of needles
cut loose, haphazard between the scale-bark trunks
and ghosts hidden from sight—squirrel skull,
dead syringe—needing a way out or deeper through,
asking questions I already know the answers to.
Max McDonough is a Creative Writing Fellow at Vanderbilt University. His work appears in Gulf Coast, Meridian, CutBank, The Journal, and elsewhere.
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