Hit play below to hear Jacques J. Rancourt read his poem “Backyard Rock” and scroll down for the full text. “Backyard Rock“ is featured in MQR’s Winter 2021 Issue.
It’s 1999, the year I learned to float by filling my body with questions. Swimming at night with my father was the first time since the fog of childhood I’d seen a man naked. The lake thickened with bloodsuckers, the moon a sliver in the sky— uncut, tucked within a hood of skin, unlike mine, his tip the backyard rock split in three. Think of Ham who too saw the nakedness of his father. Think of God enlarging Japheth. It was both what I did and did not want. How I understood myself afterwards uneasily as my own dim reflection, uselessly as my shadow cast at night. * It happened, I’m told, because water trickled down a crack and froze, expanded and split apart this rock or boulder, whenever a rock becomes a boulder, in millimeters, then inches, then feet. I walk through these paths between stones, and on one side where it indents, the other extends, so that one could push them back together again if one were God. On the northern cut, my fire glows and the ice on the trees rears up around me like a question, like a knife. * I’ve summoned the hair I know exists inside to sprout across my chest like his, I’ve culled the same slate rocks and still my body, newly unbuilt and barren. My father and I share our name yet he goes by Jack. I want to believe we’re tied to the same chicken wire but here I am—here we are— the earth undigging its graves, the clouds wringing out their water. The day I convinced a squirrel to eat from my hand, its tiny nail-feet sticky with sap, I could have if I was that kind of person snapped its leg simply by closing my fist. Could have even if I wasn’t. * Walking at night in winter, I’m headed away from an encounter with someone I’ve met on the internet. When he asks for a name, I give him Jack. My father, drunk and lolling in a hammock, once told me his first time was with an older woman and three other boys. I mull this over by way of ice. Bed, breed, burrow: two mammals leap in and out an old fishing hole. I step closer; the frozen lake protests. Too small to be beavers, too large to be muskrats, they leap in and out. I step closer; the frozen lake, a dark marble, clouded and cracked, protests. It’s not a fishing hole, I realize, but the edge of ice—beyond them black open water—and for once in my life I can measure how close I stand to the periphery of danger. * Out on the frozen lake stripped pale as a face, out where the ice heaves beneath me, a groan or a snap, and at five inches deep I know it will hold I know it will even if my knees—the sweat pilling my fleece—does not, out in the sun-lock, the ice-blister of the day, out where I watch the trap I’ve set sit and stay, drawn low below me while trout tangle under the ice in a diamond of a dance, out where my father had stood, his boot-prints glazed by snow and rain, out where his traps snapped up at once, a fish’s frenzy to yank down the cords, to impale their flap-cheeks on the barbs and feel that sting, that pull into air, their blood patterning the snow in scales, I understand I am not my father, not earlier today by the woodshed, by his fell, sailing an axe over my shoulder and into the block of wood where it plants, shakes loose, the log still standing solid, unsplit, and whole: I try to understand how if I hack and hack, it will come apart in pieces, strips, first bark and slivers, but eventually, as it must, it will halve and halve again.