by John Field
Land mines exploding, red memories
On the battlefield infected and runny.
Then home again way too thin
And screaming flashbacks
In the middle of the night you laughed off
Six times faster than a fool can weep.
First chance comes you’re wheeling down
An icy country road at seventy miles per hour
And a pretty good driver, too,
(Holy Jesus, what a ride!)
Until crunch or metal versus metal,
Three broken ribs and one collapsed lung
Instead of an airbag. The other driver died.
Brother, brother, by what frayed thread
Does your life hang but never break?
In the green and leafy world
We lived in forty years ago
filled with jump starts, sudden firsts,
And false alarms
Natural selection sparkled in your eyes
Like surges of electro–kinetic energy
Each time you vandalized
Another lovely girl’s heart,
Whereas I was one of the guys
With an inferior allotment of muscles
Who knew what it meant
To have never been kissed by a girl.
On the football field you were masculinity’s
Bodyguard, at home the dining room table’s
Flamboyant skipper. I picked at my vegetables,
Totally dunced by your appetite for life.
Mine was always out to lunch.
Pool–hall scrapper, cock of the walk, class clown,
What’s left to astonish us? Here’s the plot:
Sixteen years old. Just. Midnight. Dead of.
A gunnysack stuffed with plunder
Slung over one shoulder, a full moon over the other,
Everything swell until the fuzz
Nabbed you with the goods. Mom believed
It must have been a disease you had
That got you arrested for burglarizing
A neighbor’s house.
Eyes welled up with engineered regret
(Oh how you played that role!)
You stood in front of the judge
Without a moral sense
That anyone could measure
And swore on the courthouse bible
A thousand times false
That from now on you’d show the cops
A lot more respect for the law.
But of course you didn’t, dead–set to ignore
The judge’s cautionary tale
About years young men like you
Wasted horribly in door–less county jails.
Dad was a man of connections,
The reason you got off with probation.
A month ago I watch you walk on water
Like the second coming of the Lord,
But on sacred and dangerous spaces
Steps must be gentle, yours were not
And you paid dearly for that
The moment a stroke
Uncorked you from your water skis.
Ashamed of its practical joke
The lake washed you ashore,
Soiled merchandise returned to the store
Gift–wrapped in a body
With a person still alive inside it
But much too sick to get well, your doctor said,
And only a little time left to live.
Not so. Because a dead man’s float
Is always face down and yours was up.
Flat on your back and half–dead
But still center stage
We gathered round your hospital bed
And got down on our hearts instead of our knees
The moment you opened your eyes
In a sudden bewilderment of where and why.
Then you figured it out like a regular Houdini
And brought down the house with a cocky grin
That spread to the width of a blessing.