Sweet Potato Skin

January 18, 2012
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You bite your nails because you have to.
You have to move. Always.
Your hands are old hands. They have the scars
of rain-washed pavement, rough and veiny.
Years of carrots, sweet tates, and lack of greasy
foods have left your palms dry and orange.
The fingers are strong enough to break limbs
from trees, but precise enough to bead
broken jewelry, carefree enough
to pour sugar in the batter
with your hands as the measuring
cups, stopping short enough
that Mom can have some.

How do you do it, Max?

You could make s*** taste good.
I'd rather not know if you have.
When you question authority, your brow furrows
politely, but I know those telltale signs,
those ripples of anger. I know when to speak
and when to hide, to quietly shut my mouth
when I see that you've had enough
human interaction. Most people don't.

You are a sharp, sweet onion. Layer
after layer after layer. You make me so mad,
sometimes. When all I want to do is sing,
and you have a headache. When you're right
and I'm wrong. Or when I know I'm right
but it's not worth the argument. I get so stung
by your little remarks I fail to see you fighting
to keep them down, fail to see them rising
like word-bile.

When it gets really bad, when Dad
goes maniacal on your ass and his voice gets
hard and dangerous, usually at you, in the backseat,
when all five of us are stuck in a hot little car
with his indignation and your racking sobs,
that's when I think I truly understand you.
That's when all the layers get salty and transparent,
like seaweed paper, like tears in a petri dish,
and all that's left is you, not chill, patronizing
Max, not cool Max with his Moroccan scarf
swag, not Max impressive with made-up statistics,
just baby blue Max, little boy Max,
and you are so real I want to strip
off all my layers and cry too,
because I get you, more than anyone else
in that car. Because you make me
feel real, too. You alone can
make me two years old again,
a chubby, dimpled blonde
with her face smeared in
chocolate cake, always
smiling, always looking
to her brothers
for the answers.

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