Volume 5 Number 1-4
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Poetry by Bertha Harris
Mike had been back three years from 'Nam that Sunday,
And ten people were at my house after church.
Mike's brother came in slamming the screen, saying if
Mike wanted to drive his car off a ten-foot
Drainage ditch, he could at least have sense enough
To kill himself alone, some people wanted
To live, and it was not his business to be his
Brother's keeper (or words to that effect).
When dinner was ready Mike was asleep on the
Couch under the Sunday paper. When I lifted the funnies
Off his face, he grinned at me.
That day at the table, he ate as if he were alone.
His mom dried the silver, after. She kept talking
About respect, and responsibility.
I guessed if Mike was old enough to fight a war,
He was old enough to know what he wanted,
Neither of us knowing what we meant.
One thing it turned out Mike wanted was to get drunk
And start fights in bars. He seemed as if searching for
Someone to punish him, someone he could punish.
Someone who deserved it. Finally he did time
For aggravated assault. Paroled from prison,
He camped out on a riverbank all summer.
The year Saigon fell we moved in together
In a small upstairs apartment with a braided rug,
A yellow, sun-washed kitchen where I wrote.
"'Whatever you do,' he told me, 'Don't give up.'"
I was so happy I assumed him happy,
Even if he started coming back later, drunker, a
Bottle in his back pocket against the night.
Then it was our Bicentennial year, when with
Flags and congratulations, they healed our wounds.
A green candle sat on our yellow dinette
Where after-dinner talk had run down. I was getting
Sleepy when he spoke. "Who are you talking to?"
"Them." He made a gesture to the window; his hand
Descended forgotten with the bottle I knew would shatter,
Spray us both with shards--but the ashtray merely
Turned a long, lazy flip in midair,
A pound of old butts glued to my clean kitchen,
With Mike staring, his face the color of ashes:
"They're my friends, and I'll talk to them if I want to!"
And I sat and listened until I could stand and quietly,
Normally leave the room, and maybe he saw me go.
Monday morning, they found Mike on the Kansas
Side of the river, knocked in the head. He came home
In the last blaze of summer. The maples were
Already starting to turn the color of his hair.
The minister talked about Heaven, how much Mike
Deserved to go, and surely would. I couldn't listen,
I sat wondering how the cool water revived him,
How by blunt, fractured instinct of hands and body he
Pulled himself up and on the embankment, what he remembered,
As he lay gazing at the darkness dimming out around him.