“John’s Dad” by Jessica Newton Cooper

John's father whipped him when he was little   
we were playing in his room and John peed, 
for some reason, in his own closet

his dad's voice pounded come here 
from the living room chair
and John went
they did it out there you could hear it

in that house in the bend of highway eighty

crippled from childhood arthritis, John's dad
walked the straight and narrow on wrist crutches and worked 
at the trash drop-off 
I was taller than him by high school 
but the sharpness in his eye cowed me 
even if he was smiling and telling a joke 

his wife's strong hands sewed dresses 
their gingham hand-me-downs 
clothed me through kindergarten

John and I are forty now 
he fixes cars in Burnsville
our lives don't touch

but his dad died yesterday

my fingers move along the line
to where he stops, 
rick-rack on a dress sewed down
the way he was pinned to his life
then let go

and I want to be
let go from what held me there
listening, waiting
in the room that night 
when he beat John

Jessica Newton Cooper is a Western North Carolina native and has previously published work in the journals Appalachian Heritage and The Bryant Literary Review.