Bull Thistle

Greg Rappleye

-Cirsium vulgare

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
-D.H. Lawrence

Father comes with a pool cue, with a cutting torch, with his 12-gauge, with a hay rake, with a monkey wrench, with a tire iron, with a Bowie knife, with a bayonet, in the locked freezer, with a candlestick, with chloroform, with brass knuckles. He sights-in, takes aim, scrambles from a pillbox, from the gravel pit, from a grinding cement churn, kicks loose and rappels down the abandoned fire tower. He rises from weedy lakes, gnashes teeth in cedar swamps, in fog banks, from snags in the crooked bends of green rivers, blinking with his dead eyes, with his death-list, for revenge, for a reckoning, for an immolation, with metal chaff, with sputtering flak, with blackjacks, with bandoliers, locked and loaded, with full magazines, chockablock with tracers, mercury-filled, with hollow points, pressing my fingers to his whirring slicer, wanting my hands mashed into hamburger patties, dead beneath the hammer of a forty-ton press, my legs splayed beneath his brush hog, exhaust pipes charring flesh, in the abandoned salt mine, fallen in the cistern, sprinkled with quicklime, dead—drowned in the November suck of Lake Superior waves, in chain-lightning along the river road, dropped by the crush of windfall trees. He waits, inches below the skin of the pond, among the lily pads, reaching from muck to pull me down, drag me under, until I stir, flutter-wake, or seem to—in a dustbowl, in a great American desert, beneath a Lawrence Tree looking up, its limbs like great twisty creeks of blood, all feeding its great curving trunk of blood, sucking life from the deep blue lakes of its crown and the white stars scattered beyond, until I truly wake and not to dreams: to a memory of Father, half a century ago, his shovel, its whorled handle hard against my temple, knocking me down and Father, stabbing at my scuttling body with his shovel-blade, cursing, spittle from his twisted mouth, Father, stabbing, cutting at earth as I reel backwards through sand, body raking across thorns, across needled stalks, the leaves and bursting jagged pinks of bull thistle, and scrambling from these, rising, hands pushing up from thistle and away, shovel across my back again and running, blooded with bloody nose, with bloody ear, with great wounds and tiny wounds, cuts that were never bandaged, sores that have not been salved, with slivers and tiny spears near invisible, that fester, that have not come free, that have never dissolved, that will never work loose—out of that wild boy’s palms, up through his flayed and prickly skin.

Greg Rappleye’s poems have appeared in Poetry, the Southern Review, and Shenandoah, among other magazines and literary journals. His second book, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His third book, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), was first runner-up for the Dorset Prize and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series. He teaches at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.