The Creek

My brother barefoot in its grey thread, in his hands
the small fish hooked out, fluttering like a loose paint chip.

A jar of crawdads to carry home sat on the bank.
We’d watch them for a day until the tiny albino shapes

would hang shiftless in the water like missed bones.
On the hill, our mother, lean in dark trousers, calling us

as the dog barked to punctuate. She’d be partly angry.
The water she’d say, didn’t look right, and she was right—

the color like sky reflected in an empty oil pan.
We collided even then, but it was quieter,

until he grew taller, and I hissed to be alone.
And the creek grew smaller, shrinking back from our attention,

its mud sheen unwondrous and ignored.
Though it would sometimes flare from a car

bounding over the bridge—a slash of red
like a paper cut’s blood, startling, but nothing.

We pushed away as fast as we could.
At 16, miles downstream, he flipped

his navy Chevy over an eight-foot ledge, spinning
over the creek’s forgotten bends, wrecking

in an old lady’s garden—cement petals scattered
with glass—the truck had smashed a birdbath.

And he’d crawled out like an Achilles,
cheek full of Skoal, angry at the road, limping home,

leaving behind the folded metal, the cubes
of near-blue glass holding on the lawn like crumbled water.

The only blood was from a busted football scab,
one edge pulled up like a molting scale.

l.S. McKee’s work has appeared in Gulf Coast, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, The Louisville Review, BODY, New South, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Maryland and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. She has also received fellowships and awards from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Berea College’s Appalachian Sound Archives, among others. Originally from East Tennessee, she lives in Atlanta and teaches at the University of West Georgia.

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