|the strength of a purple heart|
I was only nine when my grandfather left,
so it should have been easy
to place his memory in the backyard
with the rabbits I never had.
But blanket burials hardly ever work out
the way they e supposed to. If you have that many bodies
stashed in your closet, you’ve got bigger problems.
The last time I went to mass with my family
was for his wake. Even then
religion tasted like a funeral urn,
full of the burnt remains of a veteran soldier
scarred spirit coalesced with the dying
scent of flesh that haunted him
until his death.
This was back in the days
when my father eyes were concave
as my mother blew SOS smoke rings
across the church aisles to grab his attention
and I watched it all( not-quite)
unaffected but, see, you learn to walk
circles around imperfection, early, when
your bloodline is trapped within flesh
car wreck-wrapped around the highway median.
And when I heard the news
my stomach crashed like an elevator shaft
with its cords cut, the car falling to the pit
of my gut, bodies like butterflies
tumbling out the open doors into my intestines
to rocket into the folds of my esophagus
when the wires snapped back and lodged in
my throat--clustered like bombs dropped
from an enemy plane onto the deck of a navy boat
(the walls of the ship wrapped around soldiers
like aluminum foil over last nights leftovers:
blood and oil seeping through the hot sharp corners
into the South China Sea--along the coast
of a country in a war
he didn’t believe in)
that stopped me from speaking.
As the family told stories in hushed tones
of how he dragged the wounded bodies of his comrades
through Vietcong waters to be awarded
the Army’s purple heart he tattooed on his wrist
with about as much reverence as holocaust refugee
favorite lotto pick.
By the afternoon of his wake, I hadn’t eaten
in days. I was too busy sifting through old journals of a man
who had keloid scars spelling out words
he never said but let ferment till they rotted
away tissue on his lungs like edited scriptures
scribbled on bible thin pages
that changes the entire moral of the story.
My stomach groaned like a church organ
beneath the somber service.
The preacher’s voice was like the tip of a pistol
held to a traitor’s temple. His nervous fingers trembled
Morse-code patterns against the trigger as I pressed
my hands to my ears to stop the sound of ignorance
hitting the ground, but it ran
down my forearm, turned holy
wine and leaked back into my blood-
line as my grandmother sang along to hymns
humming across the old stone floor numbing my feet
with vibrations like gunfire aimed at
innocents in with its blind unison.
But I walked on through the waters of his history
to the cemetery, still unsure if forgiveness was something
you earned as you grew older. And I pressed
fresh flowers to his grave, and prayed
one day, I would never need his strength.
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