My father somewhere in the Korean War.
My mother and I outside Cincinnati
living in a trailer. I have a black
and white photo of him beside the lamp
next to my bed. He's dressed in dusty fatigues,
the pockets of his baggy pants, I think
filled with air, as if he was about to rise
off the frozen ground and be blown away,
but that wouldn't happen for another thirty years.
He's posing, his body slightly turned, his arm raised,
elbow bent so his hand is level with his shoulder,
as he holds the polished metal of a .45.
Was it the same year I lay in bed with food poisoning?
How suffering bookmarks a year. That summer
I was playing "Go Fish" with my grandfather.
He and my great-grandfather always cheated,
one looking over my shoulder, signaling to the other
what card not to choose. Mad, I stormed off
the porch and ran across Virginia Avenue,
looking up at the telephone lines, anxious, waiting
for a call from a bullet-proof father to rescue me.
Perched on the black looping line a twittering banana
peel, no a singing drop of gold, no a bird,
and when I ran to tell my grandparents, they didn’t
believe me, but persistence brought them
to the front yard, where they took off their hats
and began throwing them at the bird, hoping
to frighten it down. Anyone who drove past,
seeing two old men throwing their fedoras high
into the air, would have thought them celebrating,
perhaps a son or grandson still alive, home early.
Walter Bargen has published thirteen collections of poetry. His recent books are Theban Traffic (2008) and Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (2009). He is the winner of the Chester H. Jones Foundation Prize in 1997, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1991, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2005. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).