Belle. As a boy of eight he thought of a bell,
something that rang, like the little crystal bell
on the antique table beside the bed that Mother
rang to summon her imaginary servant months before,
before she went off to get better and Belle
took him in to live and made him sleep with her
even on hot summer nights. In the morning
she’d rise before he did and go off to shower
and return to dry herself where he could see.
"You’re watching me,” she said. “Is it because
I’m beautiful?” Except for what was missing
she looked like a graceful young man, smooth,
hairless, tall. “Am I as beautiful as she?”
She meant her older sister, his mother, Leah.
How could he answer? How could anyone be
as beautiful as his mother. He had to lie
because he had to.
                                There was a second lake,
a small one, a half mile or so behind their cabin,
and when Belle was napping he’d sneak back through
the thick pine woods to spy on the older boys
who swam there, jumping naked from the rocks,
laughing and crying out with joy or pain—
he couldn’t separate the two—sometimes punching
each other on the arms or pretending to grab
at each other’s thick cocks. That whole long
summer on Lake Michigan those two lived together
in the little cabin among a stand of birches
far back from the road, though some days he would
waken to hear the big farm trucks on their way
to Benton Harbor or farther south. The town
was close by, and in the late August afternoons