In a photo from 1981, I’m almost identical to my brother, both of us in metallic raincoats and secondhand sneakers, barreling away from our parents, who sit on a park bench arguing outside the frame. The sky looked different back then, and not just the lurch of downtown on the horizon, its peaks like a flood stain on the wall of a basement apartment. That morning my brother drew a cat face on my Magic Slate—whiskers broad as the plastic page—then vanished it with a laugh. I traced a middle finger on the bottom of his Converse, marker lines around my hand. A stalled bus looms in the background of the photo, out of service sign half blown out. There’s a line at Lou’s Italian Sausage, and nobody knows it will go up in flames by the end of the month. Grandmothers clustered in lawn chairs under shade of oaks must be decades gone now. Later that day, I’ll trip on a stump and split my lip. My brother will sit in the front seat of our Cutlass Supreme on the way to the emergency room, mother in the back pressing a folded sweatshirt to my face. The Ashland drawbridge will be up for what feels like a hundred years, its eventual descent in raw increments. Our parents start fighting about the depth of the river, price of beef, obnoxious spectacle of pleasure boats headed back to the suburbs. We kids watch a fruit-seller clamber up the descending pane of road, almost like an amateur cartoon, gaining speed as he hauls his apples across the gap.
Mary Biddinger’s latest poetry collection is Department of Elegy (Black Lawrence Press, 2022). Her poems have recently appeared in a variety of journals, including Couplet Poetry, The Laurel Review, and Pithead Chapel, and have been featured on Poetry Daily and The Slowdown. Biddinger’s flash fiction has been published in Always Crashing, DIAGRAM, Gone Lawn, and Southern Indiana Review, among others. She teaches creative writing at the University of Akron and in the NEOMFA program and serves as poetry and poetics editor for the University of Akron Press.