Winter for a Moment Takes the Mind
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Matt Mullins

lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with his wife Megan and his daughter Nola. A musician, playwright, fiction writer and poet, his writing has appeared in Born Magazine, Descant, The Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

Matt has worked as an automotive plant security guard, a tree surgeon, and a house painter. He currently spends a considerable amount of time driving long distances on the highway with the car radio off. Anyone who wants to hear his music can do so at myspace.

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Blood Sacrifice

Perhaps it is the heat of it that surprises him most,
more so even than the brute shock of unexpected impact:
the snowball, no, the ice-ball drilling like magma into his ear.
Burning inside, he turns to see the clot of them laughing,
pointing as the sting of pain and the flush of shame rise

to color him. His rage emerges as a primal truth pushed
to the struck surface and released in a windy seeping through
his torn eardrum. Blood trickles from his ear, begins to freeze
against the neck of this Catholic boy minding his own business
walking home from Catholic school on his twelfth birthday.

He does not know them, the public school kids, all three
a few years older, jeering at him from across the street,
calling him asshole, pussy, loser as he balls his gloved fists
in the crisp air beneath the glazed trees. They are still laughing
when he steps into the street without looking, walking right past

the sliding trombone horn of a car until his boot touches
the opposite curb and his tongue summons the words:
“Which one of you threw it? Which one?”
“I threw it, church boy. What are you gonna do, forgive me?”
Had you been there, you would have seen him throw his gloves down,

heard the frozen letters shatter against his knuckles as his blow
stuffed the insult back into its owner’s mouth. You would have
seen the lip split, the blood blooming across white teeth then
the two boys tangling, crashing to the frozen sidewalk.
He’ll recall later that it felt like Jesus was inside his fists, guiding them

to land the shame of each wallop to eye, nose, and the other cheek
turned because right now nothing seems to touch him except the hands
that finally pull him off, drag him back, hold him down so bloody anger
can finally stand and wipe its red mouth to spit, “Motherfucker,
you’re gonna get yours now.”

And so it is that the world sits on his chest, raining blows until
he cannot feel, pinned there on his back, looking up at the blank
dead sky. No safety boys. No parents. No saviors waving
pink slips. It ends only when they grow weary of it, kicking him
once more in the ribs before leaving him to lever himself back

up into the muted winter afternoon. Twelve is the far cusp
of too young to understand our ability to confuse violence with justice
or to notice how our lives suddenly slow and distill beyond us
during those beautiful or terrible moments we seem to inhabit most.
This is why he hears but finds no meaning in the long pauses

between each trill a cardinal chirps from the black branch that bows
above the blood-spattered snow. Last spring he picked flowers
for his mother from the gardens that line this street. Now he takes
his time walking home past the white powdered flower beds,
already seeing her crying as she passes a rosary over the mute

prayers mouthed by his torn skin. Somehow it’s all turned him
inside out, made him feel like a jacket snagged on a fence post
with its sleeves pulled through, an un-stuffed glove stomped
into the ice. He wiggles a loose tooth with his tongue, touches
his nose and winces, hoping it’s not broken. Behind him

all the way back to the circle of the fight are sprays of pink
where he’s spat in the snow. Ahead, the cold day remains
perfectly still. No cars pass in the street. The sidewalks
are shoveled and empty. For years they have been teaching him
small things about God in parochial school: obedience, guilt, faith

without question. Now he’s made up his mind: it’s time
for some answers. Just before he died, after being beaten, whipped
and crucified, Jesus asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”
If all they’ve told him in school was true, there was no reason for God
to answer that rhetorical question. But today he’s slipped into more

than a few unanswered questions of his own. Questions demanding
answers he can no longer accept on faith, believing as he does now
that there are other reasons for all this surrounding winter silence.