by Domenic Scopa

Once my uncle stabbed a Rottweiler
with a ballpoint pen
fastened to his shirt pocket.
The dog—one of my grandfather’s,
named Leo,
wanted to lock its jaws
around my brother’s neck—
bared its teeth, aggressively,
all fours slightly bent,
belly low to ground,
so it could leap,
with surprising grace,
for a throat.
For a second sunlight
held still on my uncle,
the clear plastic pen in his hand
          like an icicle.
When it was over,
he simply went into the house
and made a ham sandwich,
and then, as always,
lay alone, listening to music,
in a hammock strung between two cedars
in my grandparents’ backyard.

I never understood how someone
could stab a dog’s neck
          with a ballpoint pen,
then listen to opera.

Sometimes, I sneak into
this yard at dawn, before a work shift,
and stare through lacy branches,
looking at the clouds . . .
a thick haze obscuring
and persisting.
In Boston,
those clouds seem denser.
There, near a homeless shelter
I refuse to drive by,
my uncle panhandles for heroin.
Something inside him
is slowly stealing back
every promise he ever swore.
Now, if I call,
I will listen to him slur
and search for a lost word
as if it might clear the air
          of electrons.

If his mind and body
can be rendered
as a cheap motel at midnight,
I can imagine their end—
when the lights shut off,
room by room,
until at last, all the travelers
fall asleep . . .
or until the flicker of the “vacancy” sign
becomes a kind of sleep,
while the man behind the courtesy desk
is watching late-night dramas.
I can almost picture
the grimy skylights,
welcoming cloud cover.

Uncle, tonight I’m talking to you.
For years I believed
that what was said between us,
all those promises
after my father left,
became vaporous,
and depressing,
persisting like clouds—
          like footsteps
that have found an endless,
underground passage . . .
They signify everything
that will never arrive.

See, it’s pitch-black out here,
          in these predawn hours,
under a veiled sky.
But perhaps something hides, there,
in that unknown,

something to help a nephew
pity his uncle.


Domenic Scopa is a student in the Vermont College of Fine
Arts MFA Program, where he studies poetry and translation.  
His work has appeared in
Poetry Quarterly, Borderlands:
Texas Poetry Review
, Reunion: The Dallas Review,  
Belleville Park Pages, Visions International, Cardinal Sins,
Misfit Magazine, Poetry Pacific, and other literary journals.  
Scopa was the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry
Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship.  He currently resides
in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 11, Number 1
(Spring 2016)

Copyright © 2016
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.