Janice D. Soderling



Oh, Lenny of the slick ducktail and low-slung levis.
Crumpled cigs in the sleeve of your T-shirt.
Oh, Lenny of the red convertible and ice-blue eyes.
French kisser, unhooker of bras.

Where are you now?


And Peg of much bosom and home-permy hairdo.

Crumpled wet Kleenex in a weeping pocket.

Oh, Peg of high aspirations and tugged-up green skirt.

Queen attendant, slow at math and jokes,

Where are you now?


Oh, Lenny, famed for hook shots and wham-bamming dunks.

Cruiser of Main Street, begetter of children.

And Peg of strapless gown and plastic sandals fame.

Crinolines, cinch belt, loosened knees.

Where, oh, where, are you now?


Underground, both of them, deep underground

With separate heartbreak in separate graves.


He said, looking up from the pillow, We didn't know it would be like this. I pulled the covers over his wasted shoulders. Me here. You here. We didn't know. I hesitated, evasive as our mother ever was. He stared at the ceiling and repeated, We didn't know.


Not knowing what was on the other side of the hill, we waited, prone in the tall grass. Not knowing if the bad guys had heard us coming, we waited and listened, exchanged silent signals. Not knowing how many they were, or how heavily armed, we sweated and gestured each other forward, belly-crawling up the sandy hill.

Our beanstick horses were tied to a sassafras down in the hollow. We each had a pistol loaded with a new roll of caps. We each had a cowboy hat. We each had a badge, but he was the deputy, because I was oldest.

At the top of the hill, we stood up and yelled,
Drop them guns, you good-fer-nothin' varmints. You're headed for the hoosegow. One of the sidewinders tried to draw, but a quick bullet knocked the gun out of his hand. Good shootin', pardner, I told my trusty sidekick. He squinted his eyes like Roy Rogers, waved a hand at the cowardly outlaws, said, Let's tie 'em up and git goin'.


Not knowing what was around the river bend, he waded in water up to his knees. Not knowing if they had made noise or if there was anyone to hear it, he waved a silent signal to the men coming up behind him. Not knowing how many were hidden in front of them, or how heavily armed, they moved forward.

The day before, he'd picked up three replacements, one young grunt was from his hometown. Driving back along the jungle road, they talked. As the boy stepped out of the jeep, one foot already on the ground; something went in one side of the kid's head and out the other.

Now the other two waded behind him. They were nineteen, older than he was when he enlisted. It was their first mission. It was his third tour of duty in Vietnam.

He came home full of chemicals, but did not know it. Death gnawed slowly on his bullet-scarred body, taking first his locomotion, then his speech, finally, mercifully, his mind.


Not knowing, we unsaddled our beansticks and put them in the corral. Not knowing, we walked home across the outfields, laughing and walking tall, our shiny badges gleaming in the sunlight. Not knowing, we walked toward the future.

Janice D. Soderling is a former contributor to Innisfree. Her current and scheduled work appears in The Pedestal, Blue Unicorn, New Verse News, Soundzine, Concise Delight, Literary Mama, Left Hand Waving, Loch Raven Review, Lucid Rhythms, Unsplendid (USA), Anon, Lyric Poetry Magazine (Scotland), The Centrifugal Eye (Canada) Horizon Review, Borealis (England), The Flea, The Chimaera (Australia), and the recently released Best of Our Stories anthology. Her poetry was nominated by the Australia-based Shit Creek Review in 2009 for Dzanc Best of the Web, Sundance Best of the Net, and Pushcart. She lives in a small Swedish village.



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