Before me mounds of food on Formica,
crooked mouths of porcelain at parties.
Before me staged smiles in tempered tonalities:
and we’re going back in time.
The cheap bleed of a red-tinged photograph—
and another, and another.
In this one I’m looking right down the barrel.

Here’s me, my belly protruding and resting on my cowboy belt-buckle,
and now, turning the album page, a photo of me standing between your legs,
straight-cut bangs in my eyes.
This photo: my broken teeth smiling up at you from the thin grass
I seem to be rolling in, alone and in motion.

Blurry me again: this is a photo of my catapult into the air, my descent, my laughter
just before nana’s catching me.
Small and blurry me, awash against the orange Grand Canyon,
though you wouldn’t know it to see it, as dusk is all the same.

Flipping through this photo album is less a story about our trip out west,
and is becoming less so by the minute—
Now what was, now what could have been:
the east coast.

Ah! Here it is, the sunset trailer on bricks, you, pregnant, in front—
now this one of the insides, the soft and sagging drywall wet with Carolina humidity,
now this one: this one of the red-dirt sandbox where Ralph and I played and

a tragedy is creeping up in me—and I say to you,
“Remember how his daddy beat him?”
and “Remember how he’d wet his pants?”

And there’s not one photo of Ralph, but I worry for him.
I checked online but couldn’t find him,
and I think to myself that he’s never done this,
what we’re doing now.
Never had his mama sit him down every holiday,
every occasion, any occasion to flip through her old photos of him,
what he was, what he could be.

But I see him here, in the red-dirt lot of prefab homes,
hiding behind the yellowed corner, haunting the stained vinyl siding,
though I know he’s not, he’s somewhere else:
the red, chapped stain on his upper lip,
the too-loose waistband of his dungarees showing no underwear
as he bends over to pull a rusty toy truck out of the mud,
the chicken pox scars and the cowlick,
the late-night stupor of a too-quiet doorbell rung, the sobs,
him standing there like he’d seen a ghost, sweating,
his first red armpit hairs, like a fuzzy rash,
his trimming them in the mirror in front of me,
his smile when we had an extra slice of pizza or two,
his collapsing Baptist dogma, the realisation that he, in fact, hadn’t been saved.
Ralph, no Ralph, the absence of Ralph,
the way poverty’s just absence,
unjust absence, I suppose.

Because whatever’s left of Ralph
is condemned at this moment to my quiet memory
as you turn the page to us, again,
in front of our new house, where we sit now,
one county over and very far away.


Zak Jones is a student, teacher, labour organizer and US Army veteran living and writing in Canada. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PRISM International, The Puritan Literary Magazine, Bad Nudes, Palimpsest, Hart House Review, Acta Victoriana and elsewhere. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Jones is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto studying veteran narratives and their role in “epochal” psychic shifts post-WWII. His MA thesis, a novel tentatively titled Fancy Gap, and a full-length poetry debut are in the works and nearing completion.