Spruce Pine in a Forest under the Watchful Eye of the Mountain

by T. J. McGuire

When the demon got bored,
he’d pass himself out sitting upright on the couch,
cigarette smoldering in an empty can of Coors,
TV on mute. I’d look over to see
those familiar black smudges
like newspaper ink beneath mom’s eyes.
She’d press a finger to her lips for me to be silent,
so that what just happened
wouldn’t happen again. Not tonight, at least.

I pantomimed He-Man hitting She-Ra.

Days later, the demon was facedown, on the floor.
Bob Ross was on TV right above the demon,
palette in hand, onto which he squeezed
tubes of brightly colored paints.

Alizarin crimson: for the color of mom’s split lip.
Phthalo blue: for today’s new bruises.
Yellow ochre: the color of last week’s bruises
just beginning to heal.

In front of the craggy, snow-capped mountain,
Bob would paint a vertical dark line.
A thick upstroke tapers into the trunk of a spruce pine.

I remember wishing that the demon on the floor
was Bob’s brush…when Bob needed to clean his brush,
dad getting dunked into a small bucket of sober,
then get the drunk slapped out of him on the leg of Bob’s easel.
Just beat the devil out of it.

Bob paused, looked at the camera, then asked me
if I thought the tree looked lonely.
Does she need a friend?

Casting a sideways glance at mom,
who was icing her lip with a frozen bag of peas,
I nodded to Bob: Yes. Paint a forest.

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