By R.B. Simon
/ Second Place, 2023 Plentitudes Prize in Poetry /
A few years after I left, they tore down the shopping mall. Gentrifying the glass-strewn paths along the Rock River, they placed park benches and topiaries along it’s sludgy banks. Town of 36 thousand, third highest in state crime, bidding for tourism. Yet I no longer claim my hometown; I set that stone down years ago. If I feel a geas pulling me back, well, I’ve resisted more than these magical incantations thus far. Across the Rock, Tracey’s dad began raping her when she was twelve. By sixteen, she was pregnant, her breasts proofing like two rye bread loaves.
Forty years ago, the mall was one of the town’s only saving graces. Abandoned by impatient parents, you could squander the day hypnotized by Tapper and Pac-Man at the quarter arcade, saving just enough allowance for a pastrami sandwich at Mr. G’s, then wander and gawk at the fashionable clothes in the stores you couldn’t afford to step into. In the evening, Felicity and I would roller-skate around the block, slowed only when the sun fell too low to illuminate the cracks in the asphalt.
Tracey confided in me, her best friend. Trembling, I went to my mother, uttered for her those words I couldn’t yet claim for myself. Mama reported it, of course. And by some CPS sleight of hand, Tracey no longer lived down the road. Lesson learned; I stayed silent as a boulder.
After graduation, I was accepted at the liberal arts college across the river. I stepped onto campus as if entering my Elysium, sure of leaving damnation behind.
After the baby came, Tracey named me godmother, sent pictures of her beatific babe, serious eyes round and grey as pebbles.
I struggled through two years of college before I fled to the big city, trailing memories of dusty basements, large hands.
They say you can never take the hometown out of a girl.
All I know is this:
you can still feel the weight of that Rock,
even once you’ve set it down.