Little cousins gone big,
the ones who used to hang
off of iron swing-sets until the sun set
in the next state over
have developed into drunken mothers
or fathers pretending to be stable.
Some playing the role of a heavily inked mule,
carrying the precious cargo of someone
with less worries.
Some of them mull about
in cement cells, others in tent cities.
The free ones try to out-yell each other
with sass, bragging of upper-end mediocrity,
sipping on something bitter
and regurgitating it
into audible upchuck.
I judge them for their faults, their neglect
of each other and their mouths
and forget their difficulties
when I stand in front of the mirror,
watching my face change, fighting my tendencies
and trying to ignore my own faults, the ugliness of frustration—
my own rusting patina on an aging piece of equipment.
I don’t like thinking of them
like this and try to remember the deep orange light
of the southwestern sky
mixing with the chipped paint of the swing set
watching our shadows grow and crawl across the desert
floor like wandering Gila monsters,
sure that when we grew long in the tooth,
we would do better than our imprisoned fathers before us.
Children hanging in the struggle,
waiting for our parents
to call us in when it gets too dark.
Damien Cowger’s work has appeared in various journals including The Southeast Review and The Rumpus. He is a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominee. Damien has an M.A. in Poetry from Ohio University and a B.S. in Education from Northern Arizona University. Visit him at damiencowger.com.