The Box Fan
Gary Soto

or nine months the box fan held its breath
In the closet. For three months of summer
It rattled the pages
Of TV Guide. It was summer now.
My stepfather was drinking Jack Daniels
From a TV tray pressed with the faces
Of our dead and live presidents.
The trouble with you,
He said, is that you don't respect the law.
He had come home from work, fingers black
From book print, the fissures of paper cuts
On the web of skin
Between thumb and index finger.
I had chained my bike to a tree.
He said there were laws against that kind
Of behavior. It hurt the tree. It was an eyesore.
Babies could poke an eye out on the handlebars
And could take away our house.

he sour heat of bourbon cracked the ice.
The pages rattled in the whir of the fan,
Blades the color of spoons and forks falling
From a drawer. I knew
It would take more than a knife to bring him down,
More than a slammed door to jam his heart.
You see my point? he said,
And then asked me to spell implements,
A word he picked up from TV Guide.
While I spelled the word,
While I counted out the letters
On my fingers, he drained his bourbon,
The sliver of ice riding the thick chute of throat.
He poured himself another and said,
I like that. I-m-p-l-e-m-e-n-t-s.
It's a good word to know.
He fixed the fan so that my hair stirred
And the pages of the magazine ruffled
From Sunday to Friday. I saw a serious face,
Then a laughing face in those pages,
Ads for steam cleaning and miracle products,
And the shuffle of my favorite nighttime shows.
He said that the trouble with me,
With a lot of young people, is that we can't spell.
He poured an inch of bourbon, with no ice,
And said, Try it again, without your fingers ---
I imagined the fan blades and blood jumping to the wall.

--- from Home Course in Religion
©1991 Chronicle Books

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