Gina Marie Bernard, Rules of Engagement


His denials of our mother’s accusations
finally punch through the bedroom wall.
We shadow into a split-entry basement
to play midnight Commando.

My brothers, the enemy, creep
inside darkness to hide —
behind a davenport, along hallway registers,
on top of the Baldwin piano.

I inch across carpet and toward
this other, thrilling fear —
slipping from room to room,
fingering voids as silken

as any woven by trapdoor spider.

I violate rules of engagement
leaving them to worry and to wait.
Opening a window, I lift myself outside.
Stones beneath our deck bite bare knees.

A susurrus of crickets.

Above, the screen door hisses. Beyond the roof,
our father’s car door slams. An engine rumbles. Rubber peels.
“Son of a bitch! Go to her, you fucking coward!”

Night song returns. I press a damp palm against my lips.

For years now, I’ve wondered —
Should I have run to her
instead of slinking back inside?

Lake Mille Lacs, January 1978

Sheets of Sunday ice rupture,
echoes booming beneath our shanty.
My father’s glistening fingers
grasp a shiner; hook it
just above the dorsal fin.
He wrists out line in arm lengths,
his minnow twitching—twitching—

down the hole, into green haze,
unable to swim free.

Through a window in the door
I watch my brothers
kick a gasping burbot
to one another across the snow,
its mottled body curled
in fury at their boyish glee.

I spin an empty rattle reel.
Father grunts for silence
inside his church. Our breaths drift
in clouds and I stare—stare—

down the hole, into green haze,
unable to swim free.

Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, retired roller derby vixen, and lifelong unipolar depressive. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, share her heart. Her Staffordshire bull terrier and Siamese cat, Kinley and Sasikan, pretend not to get along (but secretly pine for one another). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best Micro-fictions, and The Pushcart Prize. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at University of Arkansas, Monticello.

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