My mother’s lover took us to the basement. Each skull was arranged on the table, some with teeth missing, others brown or amber with age.
One has a black quartz arrowhead embedded in it. I could see the small white lines where the bone had started to grow again.
Another was a child’s, while a larger one had a square cut above the temple, the cuts clean as if to let in the light.
It was late fall, the sycamores had lost their leaves and looked bone-like in the moonlight. Their bare branches held stars.
On our way home, moonlight reflected in the dark windows casting a gray pall across the grass. In one house the blue eye of a television flickered.
By spring, he had left his family for an apartment downtown. Gossip oozed through the neighborhood like oil. My friends stayed away.
That summer, my father moved to a condo downtown too. My brother and I would visit him every other weekend. We would eat Mister Bee’s potato chips, drink strawberry soda, and watch his new, color TV.
In the morning, he’d fix us eggs-over-easy and bacon then drive us to mother’s house. She’d meet us at the back door and usually send us upstairs to brush our teeth.
One morning though father walked us to the back door. After we’d gone upstairs, we heard them talking though we couldn’t make out the words.
But then she screamed, “No, no…” and made a moan like I’d never heard before.
That morning, her lover had shot himself with his Beretta in his bathtub. The bullet had made a hole in his temple to let the light in.
Chapman Hood Frazier
Review by Claire Scott
What a powerful and chilling memory and what a well done poem. The introduction of “skull” in the second line is shocking. Then the descriptions of the skulls are marvelously detailed ( “to let the light in”), appropriately gruesome (the arrowhead) and heartbreaking (“as small as a child’s”). The turn to the fall and the sycamores is wonderful and the moment of optimism (“Their bare branches hold stars.”) I think the section where you describe both the lover and the father “moving” could be a bit clearer. The weekends with the father are perfectly described. A Santa Claus father, making up for his past. I think you don’t need “my father walks us to the back door.” Not sure why he would change the routine. I find myself wondering if you even need the father in this poem. Just a thought. I wonder if after seeing the dead lover, the mother would cry after screaming. Something stronger, more visceral? The ending is another shock despite all your foreboding. A terrific last line!!
Review by Paul Jones
A bit of noir by way of an affair as seen by the kids is presaged by a tour of skulls collected by the mother’s lover. What could possibly go wrong? Things do.