Excerpt #102, Rocking-Chair Moon

War Party
—Ben

In the near darkness,
in the stinking closeness of the outsized tent,
someone curses the heat
in a low southern murmur,
and with a nearby riff of gunfire
as accompaniment,
the words sound like the poetry Mr. Corliss
used to read us in English class—
stuff by angry beat generation guys
from the middle of the last century,

the ones who hung around coffee houses
and smoked reefers
and asked questions
while everyone else was reveling in war
or waging war or getting ready
for the next war—
and I remember the old sixties poster
hanging in Grandpa’s den
and its own question:
What if they gave a war and nobody came?

and I picture that What-if scene—
a vast desert battlefield, empty except for
a few huddled collections of
cock-a-doodle presidents
and war department hawkers
and yes-sir generals and other
residual stone-agers eyeing each other warily
across the wide gulf, checking their watches,
their calendars, the horizon,
waiting, waiting, waiting,

until finally the realization
that no one is going to respond
to their snake-oil-peddler hucksterism
works its way through the narrow corridors
of their systematically washed brains
and sends them home, where they find
that life has gone on without them,
and dying comes in its own time,
on its own terms.

But the question on Grandpa’s poster
is only wistful fantasy, I decide,
and I have a hard time applying it
to the real world,
the one I find myself in now,
so I lie in my sweat, breathing dust
and despair and death, listening,
and imagine something else,
a long-ago memory:
curling up in my own bed
on a hot September night,
hearing outside sounds,
identifying and inventorying them,

finding one I don’t recognize,

telling myself it’s nothing—
a neighbor taking a late-night walk,
a dead limb falling from the old maple,
two cats going at it—
but the noise comes again,
and I’m wide awake now,
and the drumming of my heart
muffles everything but the scary sound,
and I slip out of bed and hurry down the hall
and open your door and in a loud whisper
I call your name—

Carly, I say, Carly—
and you don’t answer, but I go on anyway,
not whispering, moving toward
your familiar shape like the ghost of
our old buddy Nomo
finally finding its way home,
and I tell you why I came—

It’s back, I say, It’s back.

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