Poem #137

Poem #137

Elegy for a Tunnel Rat

A startling ring: the phone is frantic still
to a tenacious teen.

This stressed student at his kitchen
silently studies,

meticulous like a surgeon
inside Economics instead of skin:

supply and demand, Industrial
Revolution, market, capital, budget, bubble,

boom and bust,

His grandfather calls at nine at night.
He has to ask his father’s permission

to meet the old man
up at the American Legion on a school night.

In a turquoise Chevrolet Blazer, they speak
through the dark meanders of rural roads, taking their time,

in the off chance he is done
and he’ll be gone.

The dialogue is about the previous generation,
the validity in family legends, or if the myths were Jack and Jill,

and just stories falling over themselves and a hill
trying to fetch any elusive pail of water.

They speak:
father and son.

After returning from tour,
Grandfather slept with a machete underneath his pillow.

You may hear his yells from a night terror,
behind his door.

How it would  scare the children to endure
in his room with the silent fellow.

I remember
a different family member,

a family member
who could break your neck.

He could break your neck with only his legs.
He is reaching his mortality, beat by a gang,

after hopping from bars: his eye is still bloody
at mom’s rocking chair.

This was the last I had seen
of the geezer-marine, until now,

when he camped at my dad’s home
to repair from the final battle,

losing a different war
at home.

He climbed the circus ladder
of the riveted and rusting tower

high above the gorge
and downtown Richmond,

near the district
of the depot,

to hang Christmas lights when no one else would
to make the metal and wire skeleton imitation

of a yule log

when no one
had the gull.

If no one else would,
if only they asked him, work tough to come by, he would.

A tunnel rat acquires
information in the enemy trenches

with a knife big enough to fit in a pocket,
and enough wire to push against Hansel’s windpipe.

I heard different versions of German nationalism,
after school

from someone who flew
over the Fuji mountains

an explosion.

And here was the Norman Rockwell
of the Midwest: belly to a bar,

the only money from retirement
checks from the government

in a coke and two shots
of whiskey from the well.

And yet I remember how he took his coffee:
with cream,

and two spoons
of sugar.

By the urn I am kept from mourning
your passing

on anti-psychotics;
the sadness fights with my tear ducts.

This is why
I cannot cry.

At Williamsburg Cemetery
not far from the fishing reservation

where he, my father, and I
sat and ate cold chicken,

fishing for blue gill off the shore
in a small secluded town surrounded by corn.

At Williamsburg Cemetery
not far from the orchard

where you and grandmother drove me
for popcorn and caramel apples.

The firing squad recoils.
The order to fire refrains and refrains.

Shots fire.
Their fingers squeeze.


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