Neil by J. Bradley



Neil asks where the photos are. I hand him a sheet of paper, his favorite green crayon. “What do you want to remember?”


“You know what to do.”

The crayon hits my collarbone. “I know you have to have at least one photo of her. Where is it?”

It’s better you forget. It’s better to learn to quit missing her. I get up, pat Neil’s head. “The last one I had was in my wallet and it was stolen. Remember?”

Neil nods, picks up the crayon. He draws a crooked head, spaghetti hair, eyelashes that could snatch you like a Venus flytrap, eyelids that could digest you slowly.


Helen stops kissing me when she feels the loose change-sized scars scattered across my stomach and side. I murmur something about a hunting accident to get her hands and mouth moving again.

“Take your pick,” my father had said. The antlers I picked the last time chafed my scalp. My father licked at the dried blood on the tips of his antlers before he strapped them on. We got into a three-point stance. “You aren’t a man until you can wound me.”


The age-progressed photo doesn’t show whether acne will bloom across your cheeks, if your eyebrows will bridge themselves; you are only worth finding if you are flawless.

I miss how the portraits on milk cartons stared at me as I shoveled spoon after spoon of cereal. Why couldn’t have this been you instead, their eyes asked. I didn’t like candy. I wouldn’t talk to strangers. My mother didn’t know where we were.

I show Neil the mailers when he isn’t on them. It encourages him to keep practicing when and how to say “no, thank you”.

J. BradleyJ. Bradley is the author of the graphic poetry collection, The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014) and the prose poem chapbook It Is A Wild Swing Of A Knife (Choose the Sword, 2015). He lives at


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