By Philip Kienholz
The man’s scream flags through the air.
Ragged laundry drying on a windy line.
His wife thinks of feeding gruel
off a banyen leaf to her unborn baby
while bitterness chews in her husband’s brain.
Nets of scar begin to enmesh us:
coarse and broken tissue as of rough fish,
the two plus of them,
single man of me
listening in my Winnipeg apartment.
For two weeks the luckless one gropes blindly in darkness.
–by the bridge, a stray bullet fell among sleeping beggars.
Old bones rotted in a heap.
Crowds of headless
wandered aimlessly in the rain.
the soldiers came
the way that soldiers will
we were farmers
our village grew a little food
for us to eat
and making sandals
to sell our neighbors
and buying weaving
buying jugs of clay
and selling sandals
long wearing sandals
to walk from place to place
we sold them
our village sold them
and then the soldiers came
the way that soldiers will
with guns from israel
bought with dollars
they put us in the church
all that they could find
in the church by the village plaza
put us in there
then dragged them out
to die a few at a time
they dragged them out there
into the plaza
until all were dying.
–where the man’s scream is coming from,
through the floor, but not from
the suite below me.
The man opens the door.
A woman hovers on the far wall:
six or seven months pregnant.
“Hello,” I say, “I live up there, one apartment over.
Do I ever make too much noise for you?”
“No,” he replies, shaking his head, “No problem.”
“Well if I do, just come up and knock on my door and say so.”
“OK,” he says.
“Thank you,” I say.
He closes the door.
But the violently insane raging continues–
days later after a spaced-out jibe I shout back,
“Please! I’m a sixties American draft dodger!”
which brings a lull, a lull only.
Composure eroded I explain, “pornographic audio…,”
an investigating police sergeant
agreed we shouldn’t have to take it,
began knocking on nearby doors,
me being yet unsure which neighbor it really is.
The war nightmare slackens then.
The man falls silent through the floor and walls.
The innocent ones killed weigh less around our necks.
Beside the road the graves of unclaimed bodies,
a flickering parade of hired mourners,
in the torch light
someone counts the pennies
a life is worth in war,
someone pushes a corpse into a grave.
But the cop’s warning does not ease the man’s pain and again
come waves of flaming children–skins scaled with tv flakes,
an overturned blue rice jar, exploding temples…
–that only in our farthest weather
a tornado’s edge may intrude.
And the whirr of a nighthawk’s hunt:
wired bullet at midnight as the bird swoops
like a jet over the black river.
I meet both of them
in front of our apartment buildng.
He says, “Hello,” smiles, and bows. So do I.
When I step by to go inside he
sneers and snarls below his breath
about the evil dark men he thinks we are.
Twice I met the woman on the streets in the weeks after they moved.
Big as a
house, a house