Curator of the National Archive of Collective Memory and War Memorabilia called with concerns about some of my war story facts, dates and names and other details his office had been trying to independently verify for some time now. A number of incongruities in my stories have caused uncertainty in certain circles as to whether or not I was really even in Iraq at all, he said. I got a little defensive at this point and paused to swallow before asking him where it was he thought all these memories came from. But the curator caught the shake in my voice and assured me it wasn’t worth getting too worked up about, they were just following protocol after all. Perhaps the memories were stories I’d told myself so long now that they may as well be mine, he said, stories based on bits of movies and books I’d seen or read, or heard others tell over the years. We simply can’t bee too careful, you understand, about the damage to the integrity of the archive even one rogue memory could cause. I’m sure you know this, Mr. Jones—though it never hurts to be reminded that when all else has failed, only truth will set you free.
We meet at the wall of 4,000 stars
and I almost speak
But choose instead to follow my dead grandpa,
eight years gone this summer,
to the Atlantic pavilion with foreign
names he never forgot.
Yeah, we was there.
St. Marie Eglise.
We was near there.
A beautiful place
before we got there.
Hell yes. War got good then.
I follow him around the plaza’s center pool
until he stops, hand in pocket,
in front of ARKANSAS,
home of his best friend Chitty,
fellow machine gunner cut in half
in a sawmill accident a few years after the war.
The tourist crowd I cam early to avoid
is filling the monument now.
Go on along feller, he says, I’ll catch up.
I turn before ascending the stairs: He stands,
a hunched figure, in front of ARKANSAS.
Still, in front of ARKANSAS
Ellene Glenn Moore
I tell you this: the night before I was born my mama sent my waning daddy and two brothers down the street, dark elms pressing open the brick sidewalks from below, to the capitol building to watch the fireworks. Peace for Mama, and her big bellyful of me. But lights busted through the running-glass windows of our home and something in my mama—was it me? hankering to bang back?—kicked up a fuss and a longing for the bright explosions. The television made such big sounds so small. Our home seemed to spire up to stars that burned in the city sky, me in the way of my mama’s swollen feet as she walked up the stairs to a fire escape slinging out of a third floor window. Mama stepped out, sweating July iron. Pop pop pop the ringing bars grazed her belly as she pulled us up to the gravel roof where my shuffling feet kicked over themselves. Lightbursts made Mama’s face glow not just with copper, beryllium, lampblack, but now with questions, the baby ignited, bringing something hard as rock-salt to a house about to explode.
Ephraim Scott Sommers
I’m telling Michelle I saw the careening, rosy Honda
scoop up Bryan at the ankles, that I saw his head dive
into a spiderweb on the windshield,
how his body cartwheeled Olympic-like around
the air and his skateboard spun off and got lost
beneath some car in the Food 4 Less parking lot,
and I’m telling her, as he limped with one shoe
to a seat on the red curb next to me, how I did not
see him cry, not once, never, not when being axe-chopped
by a street-hockey stick in PE, not when his knee
dislocated on the quarter-pipe coping, or at the itching-
powder or testicle slapping incidents of 1999
in the lunch line, I mean fucking never, and I’m telling
Michelle all this with my hands as she perches above
me on the party barn stairs like a cartoon Pocahontas
dragging her wrist across her sour-apple-Puckered
lips. I’m telling Michelle all about the Bryan nobody’s
ever heard of because I’m eighteen and already I’ve learned
praising people I barely know and saying I don’t believe
in God is a way to make myself seem touchable.
Four-wheelers plow their voices into the field
while the California Valley yanks down the sun,
and there is no feeling like misreading a moment
of silence as an invitation to kiss. Someone might be crying
down on their knees behind the half-pipe again,
but everybody’s gathering, standing with beers koozied
in the backs of their pickups, for another square-off
and will never notice because what’s about to happen
is the shit everyone Friday-nighted all the way out here
to see, even you. Molani owned the Honda, dumped
the itching powder, Molani the Mormon with the Vicodin
addiction, Molani whose parents will later torch
their own house for insurance money and skip town,
Molani whose mouth has started fifty fights his body
never jumped into has finally agreed to one-on-one Bryan
at the party-barn with no cops around for miles
to stop it. The crowd circles, and since you’re here too,
you know how a crowd can feel the violence
in the air like aerosol or a light rain on the back of its neck,
and as the first hands are thrown, it is the lack of sound
that surprises, and you bark to fill it, cheering on your underdog
or your friend, and as Lorca says, the body floats balanced
between those two opposites, suspended in hypotheticals,
and not being able to see over your shoulders for a moment,
I feel like Milton listening his way through a forest
hearing the poem of tall trees, and when you wiggle in
and get a view, I wiggle in next to you, and we laugh,
and after a few bump-ups when it becomes clear
that Molani is one minor clip away from asphalt
and my best friend Trafton from the side with a ten foot running-start
flings his sledgehammer-hand to the back of Bryan’s head,
we have arrived at the moment our sides have been chosen,
and for your sympathy, you’re going to be some kid
going down in A-Town, in the night, in the human ring,
and I’m going to be one of ten kids kicking you.
Bone Tower of Gangnam District
A clear glass column
filled to the top with
jawbone parts, some
plastic surgeon’s idea
of art. The sawed off
ancient tusks; clipped
fingernails yellow &
piled; a million half
moons crushed. Out-
lawed & dismantled
for lack of taste, but
the real masterpiece
remains the young
women who wander
through Seoul careful
to chew to laugh to
talk. Chins tapered
to a point delicate
enough to fit inside
the hollow of a teacup
First, the bedsheets unlearn
the language of each body
I’ve ever loved. The bed
bucking shadows like rodeo clowns.
The lungs stable in their nest
of cordwood until the wind blows
the whole house down. The panels
of sun, softer than silk. It does not come
quickly, my mother says, learning
how to unravel somebody else. The unzip
of a dress godly intimate, how a jet
can expose the bare neck of this afternoon sky
with just a flick of the wings—
first the shoulders, then the spine.
The pin and the wheel.
After the night’s flirting, I drive away
from the lake I filled with men.
Still the rocks bed together in the spindle
of the dark, still the lake’s cold is in my ear.
In the backstroke of the night I hear only
the song of the lakeswept—as if by entering
my body, it turns to sediment. I am still
so cold to this morning’s touch, but could
never be dead. In fact I grow each time
a man steals his shadow from the river,
and the river echoes like the emptying jar it is.
My Future as a Ghost
Maybe I’ll linger
in some Appalachian motel,
windows scrubbed by dead branch
and dry wind, sleep in a bed
whose flowers have been pressed
into silhouette by years and years
Here I’ll dream of reaching hands—
flickering into pixel, into shadow.
Outside, ghosts of poolboys
will sift dead leaves in and out
of the water.
The desk clerk will call
from his glass room of dirty light
just to ask if I’m alone. I won’t answer,
not even to still the ringing.
So maybe I am a town
for ghosts. And I know that
places can fall in love
with those who stay awhile,
those who sweep the cracking
stairs, repair the panes
on all the windows. In the Sierras,
on the border between Nevada
and California sits Bodie—its decaying
wood and still-stocked stores.
In my mind, these towns,
are never empty—their rail
lines coming and going
through mountains and plains.
When he left me, I guess
I didn’t think about nowhere.
The dim promise of gold.
The park ranger in Bodie
gets cursed souvenirs returned
to him by mail. Contraband—
an old nail. A shard of glass. I’m sorry,
the notes say. For what I’ve taken.
I don’t believe I fall for just
anyone who shows me kindness.