Sharp Sticks

Brian Randall


We carry sharp sticks and threaten the sky with whittled points. We jab each other in the ribs, looking for the little slots that fold a body forward. Summer is our proving ground, and we stalk through its dry ribs picking trinkets from the brittle brown grass. We fill our pockets with rocks and look adults dead in the eye as we smash out windows, break the side mirrors off cars. We leave swear words smeared in a slurred hand above urinals—the runes of adolescence—and spatter our shoes with careless piss. We gig frogs along the oily banks of drainage ditches and fling dead skunks on doorsteps. We rattle chain-link fences and set dogs to barking. We swarm convenience store aisles like locusts, too many of us for the clerk to track. We leave with waistbands stuffed with melting candy and toxic-green soda. We let our teeth rot and drop like unpicked fruit. We admire him with the largest gap, the biggest tract of blistered gum.

We infiltrate the public pool well after midnight, dive into black water streaked by the ghost lights that waver below the surface. We hold our breath and tumble in the vacuum of the water like we have slipped into the cracks between life and death. The dream of death or the dream of life, suspended in the moments before blood and light. We let our bodies bump together like fish—skin on skin, electrifying and acceptable only in these fluttering moments. We breach and spout water on one another, belly out of the pool to run slapping across the concrete for another cannonball, feel the arching abandonment of flight, the crack of the water before it sucks us back under. We watch water bead on smooth skin, navigate its way through fine white hairs. We hurl plastic deck chairs into the pool, where they float like jetsam and leave the wreckage for morning.

We fill our heads with fumes until our vision flits with static and smoke our lips brown and take motley handfuls of pills—collapsed solar systems of blues and pinks and oranges. We slump onto cast-out couches, upholstery gnawed to the bone, and blanket ourselves with dust. We heap junk into a pile and set it alight, gathering close to the knotted heat. We wear the stars in our eyes and the firelight on our faces and the smoke in our hair and let the spider’s-eye moon weave us into half-sleep.

We watch the world break each day with fire, and we feel its heat at our throats and know that burning is living. We know that when summer ends they will come down on us hard, break our ranks, scatter us and round us up like wild dogs. They will force us into classrooms, into the houses of parents and grandparents, into group homes. They will make us visit soft-spoken men who will ask about our thoughts. They will give us routine, curfew, homework. But for now we hold our ground, grip tight to the reins of summer, keep our sticks sharp. We rattle them toward the sun, chant we we we, scream through the empty lots, the unattended construction sites, the side streets and alleys, chase out rival boys, rattle our sticks, slap our sunken boy-chests, chant ours ours ours.


Brian Randall is a poet and writer living in Santa Cruz, California. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Rust+Moth, Gone Lawn, Typehouse, and other places. Find more of his work online at