Skip to main content

Summer/Fall 2020

Bullet Year

Ellen Malphrus                               

In the frame over my bedroom door
the notch where they dislodged
the bullet
bore witness to
the shot that
could have killed
my little sister.

Like the
hole
of a gouged out eye
it gaped
until we moved to the country and
the house was abandoned and razed.

Before that—
three birthdays before—
I had learned how to walk with the night.

                 

Skint kneed tree scaler,
there wasn’t much that scared me,
but darkness was latching hold.    
The cure, my father announced at supper,
was for me to brave the block—
by myself.

                                                                 

Stalwart little rabbit that I was,
I scattered into full panic 
only after rounding the first corner—
drowning in a blaze of street lights.

But when I finally slowed
the thunderous buzz     
faded into a song of soft cicadas  
and I surfaced,
felt my strong legs walk themselves home.                     

Victory.


Good that I claimed it when I did,
that interlude of fearless innocence—
for then it was
1968.
The bullet year.
.30-06 in Memphis.
.22 in L.A.                        
.38 through the front window of our home
where my sister had just been scolded
for jumping on the bed—
her little body a self-propelled projectile that
so easily could have intercepted
the shot of the
five-time wife beater,
released that week from jail.
The one Daddy made sure was put away.
The one that promised his day would come.

Unlike the tragic abstraction of
Kennedy and King,
his was the bullet
that taught me
truer darkness—
the broad open daylight darkness
that festers
in the wretched hearts of haters and fools.          

The ones who couldn’t hear
the soft cicadas.
Who never made peace
with the night.

They never made peace
with the daytime either—
but I won’t let them
rob me
of mine.

[Check out Ellen Malphrus’ back porch interview]