“Cousin Paul and Mr. T,” by Joelle Renstrom

May 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Poetry

Cousin Paul has his spleen out. He gets transfusions as often as I get pistachio milkshakes. Every Christmas, he comes poorer and sicker and angrier. The rivers of veins swell close to the surface, especially near his right temple. His nostrils are permanently flared. I don’t know if these are symptoms. Every Christmas he’s a new hue of translucence; he redefines white.

While everyone eats my dad’s three-meat lasagna, Cousin Paul and I sneak out to the garage and smoke a joint of something he calls “train wreck.” It’s hard to tell how much we’re taking in because it’s so cold our breath hangs white and heavy in the air like smoke. He tells me about how a guy in a Trans Am cut him off on the Imperial Highway and how he ran the guy off the road and punched him in the mouth. Then he tells how on an elk hunting trip a few weeks ago he used a pair of pliers to pull an exposed nerve from his tooth. Even though the joint is going flaccid with the oil from his fingers, I make sure I have it in my mouth when he finishes so I don’t have to say anything.

“Do you want a gun?” he suddenly asks me. “Because no one’s safe.” He takes a drag.

“Maybe just a stun gun, then? Or how about some Grizzly bear spray?” I hold out my hand for the joint and he seems to think this means yes. He says he’ll send something to me, or maybe just bring it across the border himself sometime.

It’s freezing in the garage. The Coke my dad keeps on his workbench has exploded and refrozen into porous brown bubbles. I rub my arms and hop around a little in my thin socks but Cousin Paul isn’t going anywhere. His breath stands ghostly before his face and his fingers look a little blue. He scratches up near his elbow and I see that the inside of his arms are bruised from injections. He sees me looking.

“Did I tell you about the time I got a transfusion next to Mr. T?” he asks. I shake my head and my teeth start chattering. He tells me how he heard Mr. T talking to the nurse, and how he drew back the curtain and said, “Damn, you’re pale! You okay?” and how Mr. T had laughed and said he was all right and that Cousin Paul was all right too. They both sat there with one hand curled up toward the sky, feeling the new blood run through them. They shared a package of sugar cookies.

“When’s the last time you kicked some ass?” Cousin Paul asked him as they were finishing up.

“Aw,” said Mr. T in his barrel-chested voice. “I don’t never hurt nobody.”

He suspected Mr. T was just being gentle for the nurses. But even so, Cousin Paul puffed out his chest and closed his fist slowly. He’d kicked some ass just the other day.


Joelle Renstrom lives in Boston, MA, where she “teaches” literature, writing, and communications. Her work has appeared in Carousel, the Allegheny Review, Sycamore Review, the New York Inquirer and other publications you’ve probably never heard of, and a chapbook of her poetry was published by the University of Arkansas Press. Other than reading and writing, she enjoys travelling, chapstick, electronica, the color orange, cheese, cooking, patterns, freaks, and good science fiction. She is currently “working” on a collection of essays.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.