by Colleen Dwyer-Lulf
Hollyhock nodding against my grandmother's house
Brushed on screens surrounding the porch
Where I sometimes bunked on hot summer nights.
My uncle slept in the attic with sloping walls
That tilted toward ragged quilts
My grandmother made by hand.
I was ten and he was seventeen when he became my hero.
Not for something he had done, but just because he was so old
And wise in that way teenagers seem to children.
He did not push me aside as I watched
Him paint curly-top flames (fire so beautiful it hurt)
Arching from the front of his '52 Ford.
Then my vacation over, I went home and he to Nam.
There the North Dakota boy "Became a man"
Intertwined with jungle rot and steamy swamps
Like the hot, wet cloud that rose from his cup at a Saigon cafe
Amid the chatter of their foreign talk
And black lacquered dishes he sent home to Grandma.
He didn't tell her how the brains of one gook
Dried on his face like a gob of snot
Or of the warm pee that washed pants in the foxhole
Or the child who carried the exploding present
That threw bits of men to rooftops
Or the gnarled hand of one old woman who reached
From the mass of flesh that had been her family
To touch his dark, wet boot
When he entered the sloping walls of her bullet-riddled hut.
Instead, when he came home, he polished his car
'Till it mirrored the tossing trees above, clouds, birds,
And his own black eyes behind the patterned flames