“How Great We Almost Were: Kevin Von Erich” by Carrie Shipers


Our father always played a heel, Fritz Von Erich
with his Iron Claw, fake German heritage,
five sons he said would be his dynasty. 
After David died in Japan—of overdose

or injury I’ll never know—Dad called us
all together, said he needed us to make
our shows and hit our spots, defend
the family name.  He didn’t mention steroids,

drinking, drugs, cars we drove too fast,
the prosthetic foot Kerry kept secret
by wearing his boots in the shower. 
Mike was happier behind the camera,

but our dad said Von Erichs didn’t stand
and watch when a brother was in trouble—
never mind Von Erich was a made-up name,
the trouble scripted in advance. 

Mike came back from surgery too soon,
overdosed on pills and shame.  Chris tried
to take his place but Dad said no because
he was the youngest, shortest, weakest. 

Chris took his gun into the woods, gave up
wrestling for good.  Kerry never got past
the crash that took his foot, painkillers,
pressure to be our father’s favorite.  He said

he heard our brothers calling, asking where
he was, why he didn’t come—then put
a bullet through his heart.  Sometimes
I think I survived because I was the best

at understanding what our father wanted. 
He knew how to build a stable, circuit,
following of fans.  But he also was obsessed
with legacy, making sure his name                                                    

stayed known.  Even after he’d outlived
his other sons, when he looked at old
publicity, he didn’t see his graying
paunch and sagging pecs, his shadow

blocking out the light, the sadness
in my brothers’ eyes and shoulders.  He saw
five sons and a father standing strong
against the world, how great we almost were.



Carrie Shipers’s poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and other journals. She is the author of Ordinary Mourning (ABZ 2010), Cause for Concern (Able Muse 2015), and Family Resemblances (University of New Mexico 2016), as well as two chapbooks.