then plaster falling and the billow of gypsum
after your sister blows a hole in the ceiling
of your brother’s bedroom with the shotgun
he left loaded and resting on his dresser.
It’s Saturday, and the men are in the fields.
You and your sister are cleaning house
with your mother. Maybe your sister hates
cleaning that much, or maybe she’s just
that thorough, but somehow she has lifted
the gun to dust it or dust under it (you are busy
mopping the stairs) and from the top landing
where you stand, you turn toward the sound
to see your sister cradling the smoking shotgun
in her surprised arms, like a beauty queen
clutching a bouquet of long-stemmed roses
after being pronounced the official winner.
Then the smell of burnt gunpowder
reaches you, dirty orange and sulfurous,
like spent fireworks, and through the veil
of smoke you see a hole smoldering
above her head, a halo of perforations
in the ceiling—the drywall blown clean
through insulation to naked joists, that dark
constellation where the buckshot spread.
The look on your sister’s face is pure
shitfaced shock. You’d like to stop and
photograph it for blackmail or future
family stories but now you must focus
on the face of your mother, frozen at the base
of the stairs where she has rushed from
vacuuming or waxing, her frantic eyes
searching your face for some clue
about the extent of the catastrophe.
But it’s like that heavy quicksand dream
where you can’t move or speak,
so your mother scrambles up the steps
on all fours, rushes past you, to the room
where your sister has just now found her voice,
already screaming her story—it just went off!
it just went off! —as if a shotgun left to rest
on safety would rise and fire itself.
All this will be hashed and re-hashed around
the supper table, but what stays with you
all these years later, what you cannot forget,
is that moment when your mother
waited at the bottom of the steps
for a word from you, one word,
and all you could offer her was silence.