by Jason Schossler
Sometime after Easter,
my sister and I walked across the fields
with our bread pan and beach shovels,
climbed the hillside above Daniel's orchard,
and dug along the stream
where the mallards had their nests,
their small eyes watching. We put in thistle seed,
red mushroom, dried beetle shells, some wild onion,
a dozen maple buds, and baked it in the sun.
Robin went back for the Radio Flyer,
and together we hauled the cake door to door
in the early April dusk, asking a nickel per square.
Nobody was buying. Not big-headed Larry,
who spit tobacco from his porch on Amelia Avenue.
Not Jo Jo Simrak beating carpets on a clothesline out back.
Sorry, they said, full from supper, when offered a bite.
At last we turned home, and when our mother saw us,
she let go of the morning glories and peeked into the wagon.
She brushed dirt from her face. Stepped back amazed.
Not a slice? she asked, and we glanced past the log fence,
the day's last light falling behind the garden,
coltsfoot and hyacinth coming up again.
Why, they don't know grease from apple butter, she said,
and dropped her string for a shovel,
the two of us blinking as she took in a chunk,
bits of briar and cheat grass poking between her lips.
A peck of oak root clung to her chin
as she nodded for us to run along,
and my sister and I kept looking back,
neither of us believing.
For a long time after,
we sat under the apple tree, talking,
our fingers tracing the initials cut
in the smooth-rough bark.
Shadows filled the lawn as dark pressed in,
and it was there among the big white blossoms
that we came back to it again and again,
our breath rising and falling,
trying to decide whether she had really eaten,
or held the cake between her gums,
another mystery born into the backyard of an evening,
giving shape to things.
by Jason Schossler
She'd be at it before dawn,
dabbing calamine on the lumps I scratched
open in my sleep, pressing her thumbnail
into the fat ones, branding crosses,
asking, Where else? Next thing she'd be telling
me to stay out of those woods,
where they hummed along the drainage ditch,
nested in puddles and tin cans, cattails and tree holes
flooded by rains, forming rafts on the water's surface,
feeding on that bend of light.
Even in our own yard, so many things hatching,
flying from the rhubarb and tomato plants,
stick piles and gutters, sacks of fertilizer,
rising as my mother's fingers rose for me,
white and steady in the darkness,
changing those crosses into stars,
cutting that extra line of defense,
a long shot against the night without end.
Jason Schossler teaches creative writing at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. His recent work has appeared in Indiana Review, Berkeley Fiction Review and U.S. Catholic and is forthcoming in Confrontation, Willow Springs and The Sun. He has been awarded fellowships by the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Oberpfãlzer Künstlerhaus in Schwandorf, Germany.
"Mosquitoes" and "Mudcakes" were published in 2005 in the North Dakota Quarterly, Vol.72, Nos. 1 and 2. They are copyrighted material reprinted here with written permission and they may not be reproduced without such permission.
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