Exhaust becomes solid in winter,
carbon dating exposed skin. A boy
counts the skyfall, recognizes time
as a layer of skin, an onion peel
-ed clean by each fight, each shower
after. Under water he will stretch his arms
as far as breath, feel the warmth tease
his finger-pads. Remember older boys,
cigarette-lipped kids, who threw his sister
down. The dirty snow nested in her hair.
Under water, anger comes again. Time is
a religion for those who have a future.
He does not believe. Devout only to
a memory, he remembers the earth-mover’s growl,
stacked sand and brick outside the 7-11. Another
boy, two feet taller than he, brought down
by his tackle. Driven to vengeance
by his sister’s pink face, pushed into dirty snow.
Kids with the hands of men held her down, he
remembers the blue flush of breath
under his hands when the nose broke.
One punch before their knees bent him
into angles. Origami cranes, limbs unprotected,
Folded around his ribs. The step back
they took when he rose. Like wolves. Boy
smiles under warm water, recalls how fast
they let his sister go to jump on him. Recalls
the way their teeth shone, breath thick
with coffee and cigarettes. The number
of punches he managed to land against men.
His sister’s eyes burnt black with fear.
The curb’s attraction to his head. The descent.
The thud of a fist. A fall into darkness
Exhaust, a liquid condensed on his lip. Under
water, the eyes of adults who watched
as he lost. A Slurpee cup the color of blood.
The sting of wind over broken knuckles,
of blood in his eye. Here, in the water
as time peels another year from his skin,
he is big. Big enough. His sister,
now gone, never calls. If she does
they will not speak of the weather.