I was walking home from school.
Across the street two older boys—
high-schoolers my sisters knew
and didn’t like—stood slugging it out
on the sidewalk, really going after
each other—torn shirts, blood, headlocks,
kidney punches. I watched, absorbed
and afraid that somehow I’d be pulled
into their whirlwind of flailing and cursing,
their boyness, hard as the brothers I didn’t have.
A car drove past, slowed, kept going.
Another slowed, pulled over. A man
in a tan uniform got out and yelled.
The boys bolted for the hedges.
The man looked at me and asked if I was ok.
I didn’t know what he meant. I nodded.
He got into his car and drove off.
I looked to the empty place where the boys
and car and man had been. It felt like
trying to call back a dream.
And here they came, staggering from the hedge,
laughing. They took their places on the sidewalk.
One of them smeared something near his mouth
as red as the lipstick my sister once spread across
my pursed lips. The other boy shouted
at me, Did it look real? A car was coming.
They grabbed each other and started fighting.
I saw how it was done. The car slowed down.
I was ready, if it stopped, to run.
Sheltered in Place
Possum scamper on the front porch.
Two great horned owls nest at the edge
instead of deep within the woods.
A black bear stands looking in the kitchen window
like it’s casing the place for a smash and grab.
They’re checking on us. Wondering, in their way,
why we’ve gone quiet. Why we appear as they do,
cautiously, before light, faces hidden. Hoping,
however they hope, we’ve changed. For their good.
The moon has come closer, too. It’s larger. Brighter.
The man in it gone.
Eric Nelson’s poems have appeared in many print and online venues, including The Sun, Poetry, The Oxford American, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. The most recent of his six poetry collections, Some Wonder, was published by Gival Press in 2015. His new collection, Horse Not Zebra, which includes “My Brothers” and “Sheltered in Place,” will be published in 2022 by Terrapin Books. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.