He remembers the trouble he got into as a kid, like riding his bicycle through the flowerbeds or shooting his brother in the leg with a BB gun or stealing cigarettes from the pack his grandfather kept in his coat pocket. His mother believed in spankings and other forms of corporal punishment, but she never did the disciplining herself. "Wait until your father gets home," she'd say, and he'd nod and hang his head and maybe sniffle a little. It was all a ruse. His father would return home by dinnertime smelling of sweat and sawdust from the jobsite, and his mother laid out the day's crimes like a practiced attorney. He and his father would go into the den while his mother made clanging sounds with pots and dishes and whatever else in the kitchen—she didn't want to hear the wailing. She was too sensitive, if you can believe it. His father loosened his belt and lifted his eyebrows. "Ready?" he would ask, and the boy would nod. They'd done this many times before. The father thwacked his leather belt on the table one, two, three times, and with each thwack the boy cried out, as if in pain. After, the boy ran from the room and nursed fake tears for ten or fifteen minutes while his father consoled his mother, who always felt terrible about the whole thing. Guilty, you could say. She was gentle with the boy for days after, and more forgiving of his antics. The boy and his father grew closer, too, after these episodes. The boy behaved properly for a while thanks to his father's generosity, and the father felt good knowing he'd saved the boy from violence, from the swat of his own large hand on the boy's backside. After the war, the father never carried a gun again in his life. He wasn't a pacifist, exactly, but he was through with hurting people. "Don't cry," he'd tell his wife. "The boy will be better for it." And he was.
Janelle Cordero is an educator, visual artist and poet; her most recent poetry book, Many Types of Wildflowers, was published in 2020. janellecordero.com