Rich Ives

Knowing When To Stop

My mother was washing the word shit out of my mouth. I was conflicted. I knew she was wrong to hold back my vocabulary, but she didn’t know my exclamation stunk not of mere swagger. It stunk of awe and wonder at the power of the word and yes, at the cruelty we had inflicted on a strange boy that morning at the vacant practice field by removing his pants and running down the uncheering sideline with them while he cried.

The boy was beyond child, and his tears propelled us to the goal, though we didn’t know this till we arrived. The memories of our own humiliations flashed like fallen tacklers with fat dirty necks and amazing girlfriends as we held the warm garment to the cool wind, filling it with the fresh nakedness we might have wanted to call freedom if it had occurred to us to question our actions.

It wasn’t till after that we thought to enhance the event with the language of the older boys we had tried to be or considered the smell on our hands long enough to realize

the boy had lost himself as we peeled away his cover. The odor of fear was undeniable. We didn’t speak of it. It could not be washed out.

We could have been dictators. We could have been the angry children of policemen. We could have been peasants. We could have learned a lesson, but which one? It wasn’t till many years later that we wondered what became of each other, and none of us went far enough to find out.


Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. He has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2012 winner of the Thin Air Creative Nonfiction Award. His books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press–poetry), Sharpen (The Newer York—fiction chapbook), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking—What Books) and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press–hybrid).