Written By: William Snyder
We sit on the couch, John—Johnny, we call him—Dave,
and I. 1958, a Sunday, before church, or after—
a zippered black Bible beside us. Our mother snapped
the photo—black and white—Dave on one side, a toddler,
shoe soles wagging, toddler’s tray on his lap, John
on the other, his right hand, fingers curled slightly,
thumb apart—small hand, child’s hand—resting
on my thigh. I wear dark trousers, a jacket—
shiny fabric, buttoned—and a white shirt,
narrow tie. I am twelve. My legs splay, as if
the couch is mine, though my hands, held between,
and my face, with its bright attention ahead, its oval
of eye and smile, do not speak of ownership, of dominion,
though I am the oldest. Then John. His one, simple,
elemental hand like a new, bright leaf. His thin,
slight body, at six. Sport coat unbuttoned, dark,
shiny slacks, white shirt, thin tie like mine.
Short hair—my father’s clippers. A narrow smile,
teeth just visible—he’ll wear braces too—his lips
turning upward, but not so far—as if he wants to hold
this smile, hold it in. He’s not sure
of the humor here. Or he is sure—a quip he’s holding back.
Or his understanding, for the first time, of family—
its webs, its hooks, its expectations of hearts and words.
Or it is the dressing up for church, and the pose,
the mother-laden demands. His eyes, open
as far as eyes will open, tell me now, years
into a future, that he loves me, there, on that couch
in Mobile, dressed for Sunday—those eyes,
and that small, polished, innocent hand on my leg.
And I love him, though I may not have known it then,
may not have understood that love. What do we know
at twelve, except that something in that house, on
that couch, binds us? John’s hand binds us. Blessing.
About the Author
William Snyder has published poems in The Southern Review, Atlanta Review, Poet Lore, and Southern Humanities Review, among others. He was the co-winner of the 2001 Grolier Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2002 Kinloch Rivers Chapbook Competition, the 2013 Consequence Prize in Poetry, and the 2015 Claire Keyes Poetry Prize. He teaches writing and literature at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.