portion of the artwork for Laura McCullough's poem

When I Was Growing Up
Laura McCullough

kids could still walk to the candy store.
There were candy stores.
I walked up West Cliff Road with the other kids.
         Pat, Tommy, Jimmy, my kid brother, Willy, and me.
We didn’t walk in a pack.                More like a string.
         Kick rocks as you go.
Throw some junk in the creek as you pass by,
         me now with Tommy for a few rock tossings,
         then maybe walking with Jimmy.
Never with my brother if I could help it,
         and all of us, essentially, walking alone,
         but loose like a flock of birds,
                 now one going this way,
                 the others slowly following,
                 one going that
                 the rest veering behind.

Mostly, we took the same route
         to the candy store,
         unless one of us got brave
         and took a different block.
Sometimes, we went by going up Smith Street
         instead of Orlando,
         and Smith meant you’d come to the Golden Eagle Bar,
         and have to go through the parking lot
         and then through the fence,
         and then into the lot of the candy store.

I never saw a single person come of the bar’s back door.

Never heard a sound.                Never saw anybody drunk.

I might even have hoped to, but didn’t, even when that door
         was open like it was all summer,
         and you could see a dark gaping space
         that was clearly the way
         to an adult and alien world.

What I did see was worse:
         a dead cat in the gravel by the fence
                  where we had to pass through.
                           With a stick poked up its ass,
                                    with sticks poked into its sides,
                                                      one through the neck.

One of the boys picked up the stick from its back end
         and held it in the air.
You know what a dead cat looks like:
         matted, dusty, stiff.
                  Just a dead cat.
                           With a stick up its ass.

That someone had put there.        Had shoved there.

The boys speculated.

I can’t speak for their feelings.
I was not a we; we were a small collection of just forming Is.
I was not afraid, exactly.                But I knew something new,
         that people were capable of things outside my imagining.

It was the summer we all talked
         about the kid a few blocks away
         who had to go to the hospital
         because a teenager, a nameless older kid,
         had hammered a nail into his skull;
         the summer two kids and a police officer
         who had tried to save them
         got washed into an overflow storm pipe
         during a flood and drowned;
         the summer we all stopped at the creek
         one day on the way to the candy store
         and climbed inside that storm drain
         and showed each other our private parts.

Private parts.

As if we could actually reveal what was happening to us.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 30 | Fall 2010