by James Bertolino
I was a freshman in high school, a “minim”
at St. Bede Academy, and for no good reason
bloodied August Polito’s nose.
It felt like a lump of pink clay to my fist.
He staggered back, then stood there, eyes wide
and blinking, while two thick streams of blood oozed
down his lip. I was satisfied to have hurt someone
I knew wouldn’t hit me. I remember
the Summer I was fifteen and killed
a snapping turtle. The entire shell was buried
in the sandy shore of a shallow river
I’d waded through. Only the head protruded,
and when I stepped too close, those ferocious jaws
lunged and snapped. They missed my bare foot,
but in retaliation I swung my hatchet again
and again, creating a bloody stew.
Only after I pulled the ruined carcass free,
to survey my passionate work, did I see fat yellow eggs
the size of marbles. I gasped, crouched
alone there with my shame. The same
shame I should have felt for the evil
I’d done to the soft, egg-shaped Polito,
who with his raw complexion and
thick-lipped smile wanted only
to be my friend.
From Finding Water, Holding Stone, Cincinnati, Ohio: Cherry Grove Collections, 2009, page 53.