Pastoral With Boot

My sister’s father wore steel-toed boots as mean
        as a machine gun. Once, fences down
              but full of current, the cows
        gone to flowers, she and her dad, my mother and I
gave chase. The wild heifers ran free,
              fearful as rioters. Far across the field, I saw
        my nine-year-old sister step on a wire, collapse
              to the grass, start to cry. Loathing the echo
of his own pain within her sob, her father started stomping on her
        the way he once squished a pregnant mouse
              in the oats, fetuses bursting
        pink from its side. Face down,
all three hundred pounds of him
              brought to bear through that boot
        against her spine, she was supposed to shut up. She couldn’t.
              Thirteen, I ran toward her shouting his first name,
his full name, getting closer and louder
        the way a father handles a son
              who won’t listen, commanding him to stop,
        stop that right now, until the words
inverted us, his gaze furious against the authority in mine.
              He froze. I was going to take
        his daughter, bruised to the bone.
              Was he going to defend his claim,
charge at me? I wasn’t ready to be a father. I was ready
        to run faster than his fat ass could catch,
              my daughter safe in hand, get to the road,
        wave down anybody, show them
her back, his bootprints blooming purple,
              winding around her vertebrae.
        Instead, like a teenage bad boy
              in a hit and run
with his dad’s waxed Camaro, he fled the scene.


Michael Walsh's The Dirt Riddles received the Miller Williams Prize in Poetry from the University of Arkansas Press as well as the 2011 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have appeared in publications such as This American Life, The Writer’s Almanac, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cimarron Review, The Cincinatti Review, DIAGRAM, cream city review, and Prairie Schooner.