Robert Joe Stout

A Family of Six


1. Ingrid, 9


Blonde hair falls

across her face as she strings

holly berries on a thread

for the Christmas tree. The hamster

in the cage at her feet rises,


sniffing my presence. She needs,

she says, a hook-and-eye

that her older sister

has promised. Her voice

has the rushed incoherence

of locusts

hitting a window screen.


2. Emily, 11


Her frown turns inward,

a hunter's squint

towards brush that yields

only squabbling jays.


Her friend, she says,

has a swimming pool, stereo,

competition skates. My shadow


blurs her expression

into a smile of imagined triumph.

Her bow reaps accolades.


3. Paul, 12


Inadvertently I call him

by my brother's name, then

laugh as he charges the tee,


The ball ricochets

into the rough.


Hey! I shout

as I would to a young stranger

I'd met only hours before.

Take it easy, relax!


On top of his game

he rams a 30-foot putt

into the cup.

(I straggle in later, fifteen down,

proud of him

and aware


that I've walked this garden before,

giving myself

to my brother.)


4. Deirdre, 8


Rabbits skitter

through descriptions

of her day

at school.

                I laugh

and lock my hands

around her,

swing her

past the couch.



is a way

of showing



5. Lynne


A stream cuts through inward-bending pines

and thistled hillsides

beneath the road. I set the brakes

and we edge down the slope,

groping for each other's

fingers. Then tumble


to the water's edge. Her long red hair

half-shrouds her face

as she dumps thirteen years of marriage,

one by one,

into the ripples.


Then stands. Clouds

warp the sunlight on the higher branches.

A tufted waxwing

polishes its bill on pine bark.

Her hand touches mine

and she whispers, hoarsely


Shall I go first?

                          Or will you?


6. Epilogue


The tall tree that I used to climb

has lost branches

and lists northward like an old man

unable to support himself

without his cane. Its leaves

fall sooner each autumn

as the saplings around it

fight for its sunlight. The tallest

pushes through the old tree's lichened branches.

The others sweep outward

to surround, obscure.      


It creaks as I climb,

my rough hand

and the bark pulling together,

a joining of years,

of blood.






Robert Joe Stout is a freelance journalist and currently resides in Oaxaca, Mexico. His essays, fiction and poetry appear in a wide variety of commercial and literary magazines.



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