"Formative" by James Benger

In my very first bedroom,

the one I shared 

with my eventual brother

up until the age of five,

that room in the trailer

out in the Indiana woods,

homemade septic tank

and holes in the living room floor,

my mother lined the walls with

construction paper letters,

colorful and jolly,

upper and lower cases,

print and script.

I might not have 

learned to read in that room,

but I did learn of reading there,

how the letters 

curve and bend,

break and snap back,

how they can scream cacophonic

or remain silent,

a secret between reader and page.


In that room,

cheap wood paneling and

electric train set on the 

high shelf in the closet,

stuffed animals under the bed and

an animatronic bear that learned

to sing along to a Judas Priest tape,

I started to think of the alphabet

as a squared-off circle ––

A at the northwest,

Z at the northeast,

the hinterland between the two =

the part where you implore others:

“Next time won’t you sing with me?”


I thought of time in a similar way:

January = northeast,

December = northwest,

the upper gap 
between = Christmas break.


In that room with those letters,

those months,

those concepts,

I ate hot dogs with ketchup on white bread

from the middle out,

and tuna fish from a bowl,

only once without the mayonnaise.


Those days in that trailer

out in the middle of

hunting season nowhere,

I formed and learned who I was.


I’m told the trailer burned down 

over two decades ago,

the wooded land now houses

a shack that serves as a meth lab,

but none of that matters


because Thor, 

my first dog,

who passed away in 1986 (or was it 7?)

is in a pine box in the hill I would sled on,

and the sound of 

Mom and me

singing the alphabet

is still bouncing through the trees.