James H Duncan

We the Faithful

time worn whispers in the darkness

we secretly slip out of bed and
find mother curled up
on the third-hand couch
her lips to the plastic telephone
unable to hide the cries of
a young single
woman with two children
who doesn’t know what to do

our cereal and pasta and discount
kindergarten lunches felt endless

our bedtime stories of panda bears
and Disney characters and the
sing-song 70s AM chart-toppers
turned lullabies she would whisper
felt endless

our t-shirts with cartoon characters
our gold-bound books of puppies
and brave tug boats and lions

what we were not yet able to see were
the second jobs
the medical bills that wouldn’t go away
the heating oil gauge dropping lower
and lower and drying out
we were too young yet to feel the wounds forming,
my sister and I were too busy playing
in the patch of grass not
too close to the road, we promise

hearing her whisper to her own
mother how hard it was just to rise
from bed in the morning
to face the next thing
and the next and the next, it didn’t
wake me, it wasn’t
a revelation, not yet, but rather
it kept me awake, forming hairline ideas
that would later turn to cracks

when my own hells would unfold
around me and pull me down
but in that moment, we could only offer her
a bowl of store-brand corn flakes
with far too much milk, a small dollop
of sugar on top, spilling a little
over the edge as we carried it to her bed
just as she woke the next morning

a gift to a god
a sacrifice on the altar to everything
we held dear and were destined to become


James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, a former editor with Writer’s Digest, and is the author of Dead City Jazz, Berlin, What Lies In Wait, and other collections of poetry and short fiction. He currently resides in upstate New York. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.