The War on the Old
The twisted frame of a trolley car that was hit by a shell smolders in the middle of the road. Some are asking, “Who are we fighting?” Others are packing up in case the enemy comes this way. It feels to many like they’re already here. Illegals have been enlisted to fill sandbags and roll bandages. My 97-year-old father seeks shelter in a shallow doorway from the debris raining down, old love letters and faded black-and-white snapshots and gratuitous shards of memory. God once promised him to send help, but time has passed and help has yet to arrive.
A couple is arguing in the gravel parking lot of a soot-blackened heaven, drunkenly cursing each other like Rimbaud and Verlaine when they were mismatched lovers on leave from poetry. I press myself against the wall. The light God created is a vague haze, barely viable, somewhere on the spectrum between a shimmer and a shadow. I still can’t forget the screams of the animals trapped on the burning ark. Even ice on ponds is never 100 percent safe. It’s an unforgiving situation, Christ dying over and over on crucifixes above beds in children’s bedrooms all over the world.
The children in mandatory attendance have faces like wilted flowers. Poor humanity, always preparing for something that won’t happen or that already has. Investigators assigned to the case plant false evidence, intimidate witnesses, solicit bribes. Then one night the chalk outline of the body mysteriously disappears from the sidewalk. It doesn’t change the fact that every street is a crime scene, every person both a suspect and a victim. No one is perfectly innocent. My own heart rattles with bottled-up rage. Just before pronouncing sentence, the judge makes a ceremony of wiping his nose on the sleeve of his black robe.
At the world premiere of the Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven played the piano with such violence that gravestones fell over and broke. Later a young guy, carrying a battered guitar case slung over his shoulder like a cotton picker’s sack, went down to the crossroads to catch a ride. Years would pass without any word from him, but there were rumors, one that he was torn to pieces by hunting dogs, another that he was stomped to death by white devils in motorcycle boots. Now every day at dawn the birds resume singing a centuries-old murder ballad as if specifically for our continued moral instruction.
The sun passes like a flaming sword overhead, and I feel it as a wound in my chest. Shingle roofs catch fire. Leaves on trees wither. Cars are soon covered in ash. In the days that follow, the sky when I dare to look is a dull orange, the ocean an unpropitious black. The smell of smoke spreads around the world and seeps into people’s food and sleep. “No gods, no masters / The revolution will be kingless,” someone has spray-painted on the bricks. Children on their hands and knees peck at the ground for seeds and insects and adults sniff around like dogs.
Howie Good is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, including most recently The Death Row Shuffle (Finishing Line Press), The Trouble with Being Born (Ethel Micro Press), and Gunmetal Sky (Thirty West Publishing). Howie’s newest poetry collection, Heart-Shaped Hole, which includes examples of his handmade collages, is available from Laughing Ronin Press.