1. Richard Roberts, ca. 1954
He used to hold her down (my mother used
to say) and lick. His long, pink tongue would dart
from chin to forehead as snail trails cruised
along her face, her eyes part-way closed, part-
way opened. His face, suspended art-
fully like the moon, watching, waiting, hoping
that she would cry, but not too loud. Tears smart-
ing, fury gathering in her chest, groping
for some means of escape. Spit trail roping,
slowly gathering length from his bottom
lip, oozing down, down, down, gently sloping
suddenly breaking into drops of Sodom!
Gomorrah! Spit raining down on her face!,
sibling rivalry / Biblical disgrace.
2. Richard Roberts, ca. 1986
‘Twas Christmas. Oral’s house — “La Casa de
la Paz” – and visiting the kids’ table
my Uncle Richard Roberts: “Anyone wanna play
seafood?” We shrugged, this game the stuff of fable.
He lifted up a spoon of mashed potatoes.
Spoon in. Spoon out. Teeth clenched. Lips splayed. Hushed pause,
til suddenly, between the teeth, potatoes
streamed out. “See, food!” said Richard, to applause.
Then in the den, the gifts from Santa Claus
laid out, the conversation turned: politics:
some ORU profs traitors to the cause.
“Let’s fire a few before this thing erupts –
we need a public hanging,” says Richard,
to show our teeth.” Now playing: “See, professor!”
3. Richard Roberts, ca. 2009
We buried Oral in December, the
ground cold and hard, our bodies shivering
in thin black mourning. Suddenly Uncle
Richard, at bat, white peakèd face quiv’ring:
“These boots,” he said, while pointing down, looking
out upon us, “these boots, they were my Father’s.”
Silence. No wind, cold feet shuffling.
“But when he gave them to me, the great honor
just missed their mark; the boots didn’t fit.” Bitter
pill, this. “Today, Lindsay, over coffee, looks
at me, says, ‘Richard, you might consider
trying on Oral’s boots.’ So from the closet, I took
those boots, and stepped right in. Wiggled my toes.
Praise God, they fit!” Lindsay, beside him, composed.
Originally published in This Land, Vol.5, Issue 17, September 1, 2014.