The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Adam Tavel
Operation Pike, Vietnam, 1967
for W.D. Ehrhart
In sleep I drift through fog until the skull
returns—that village newborn’s temple burst
like eggshell, rags drenched in mist, his mother’s arms
still cradling him though blood spills down her breasts
where shrapnel split her like a rations tin.
What can my stupid ghost absolve for the ghost
morphine makes her there, a dappled moan
that slumps at last to birth her own release?
Bill, all week your book of nightmares pulls me back
to this one page I have no right to name.
I thrash awake and find no better end
for when a body is at last a song
of flies, the pity needle’s pinch, a breeze
through hunched Marines who rise and limp away.
It was impossible to keep a face
by amber candlelight and fight the ache
named midnight, starless, sooty as the veil
graveyard gloves draped across a vanity
for good. Each time the widow closed her eyes
she saw less nose, less neck, less collar stains
dark as dimes spilling from a burned mite box.
When a daughter grew old enough to ask
what father looked like, she was told he was
this tall, the mantel held his pipe and hat,
your brothers hemmed his overalls. Sometimes
after a house was snores, one lonely hand
slid under sheets and found some pleasure there
remembering a silhouette of fog.
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