Pandemic Prompts

A Scar and a Souvenir by Kevin Hoskinson

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," wrote T.S. Eliot. For those who need an outlet for creativity during self-isolation and social distancing, Lit Cleveland is offering free writing challenges each week via our newsletter. The following piece is a response to the "This is not that kind of poem" prompt.

A Scar and a Souvenir

by Kevin Hoskinson

Some poems avoid you

and don’t bring a warm blanket

or soft sunrise at the end

just a reckoning of sorts


In Maple Grove Cemetery

off Darrow Road in Vermilion, Ohio

stands an infant graveyard

a garden of dead babies

growing little headstones

I visit a brother here

Ricky Lee

who appeared and disappeared

on October 12, 1955


We would have been three brothers

five-year-old, Ronald, already here

then middle Ricky

me three years later

He was the first 4th family member

whose spot I now hold

He, the limb sawed from the tree

the phantom branch

under which I grew


So a birth, a death, a funeral, a grave

but no grief here

Just a sack of question marks

a future tense trapped in a past

a peculiar scar and souvenir

with no substance

but this rectangular rock at my feet


the family ghost


I picture my mother and father:

dinner table talk

about the new life to come

The crib where Ronald first slept

brought out and repainted

the wooden rocking-horse in my basement now

passed down to Ricky before me


As my mother’s belly swelled

Dad would work extra shifts at the mill

to pay for monthly check-ups with doctors

who smoked in their offices

all in preparation for a grand appearance

a terrible joke with a grim ending


We never become a family of five

with a middle child to contend with

did not get to be both poorer

and richer

yet today I live

indebted to him and dead-ended in him:

the lynchpin between oldest and youngest boy

gone in a death certificate


burdening and bonding us in absentia


So wherefore your non-being, Ricky?


Would you have been a curious child—

a taker-apart of clocks, toasters, gear parts?

Maybe an athlete in football pads

homecoming king with pretty girlfriends

overachiever in the middle

needing to be noticed—


or an army recruit in a military haircut?

A hippie in a tie-dye and sandals?


I pause over your stone today

see the three of us

hanging out in the sun on your patio

with beers and you at the grill

pool table and dart board in your basement

because in my mind you’d be the host

the brother

we both weren’t

but wish we were


Maybe you’d have kids, grandkids

a marriage that held together

or not

Of course, you might be none of that

a chronic junkie in and out of rehab or jail

is just as possible


But we’d have learned from you

and you from us

if you could have stayed a while

before heading straight into the void

buried here and still not mentioned


Anyway, a new, sinister reaper

65 years after you left

comes now with its own reckoning

of graves not yet dug


Time for me to go

I hear a man on a tractor

mowing somewhere behind me

over the dead who

never die all the way

& end up in poems like this