Lilacs hedge the yard
where my brother 
and boys in ball caps play 
capture-the-flag. They curse
when they capture, 
when they get caught. 
Inside, my mother 
bakes a cake: folds oil 
and eggs into batter, 
350 degrees for forty minutes 
or till the toothpick 
comes out clean. 
This is how her son 
will let her love him. This 
is how, when she lifts 
the pan from the oven 
with the same tenderness 
she may have lifted him, once, 
from his crib, and calls 
out the kitchen window, 
the ranks dissolve: 
prisoners and captors, 
shirts and skins, enter, 
clods of grass falling 
from their cleats. But 
neither the fragrance 
of lilacs nor the air dense 
with chocolate can mask 
the odor of almost-men 
who have learned, as if 
overnight, to lift each 
forkful in silence, leave bare 
plates, and return 
to the yard to finish 
what they’ve begun.
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