Matty can remember a hundred. We can’t
stock that much bourbon in our house.
Instead, he tells the same one on birthdays.
Each year of his life, he reduces the narrative
by a detail. Tonight, it’s a single sentence:
The NVA soldier Chien Tran lived inside
a washing machine. My wife cries
this is Matty crying Uncle. My sister swears
this is a symptom of breathing industrial
paint fumes. Dad’s positive
his big brother’s a bigot.
I disagree completely.
Matty knows his enemy’s full name.
He speaks the same tone he once explained
newly constructed town courthouse directions
for our neighbor Mrs. Cuthbert, the lost elderly
juror who believes everybody is innocent.
Maybe she’s right. I’ll finish his story:
Every sunrise, first tour, Matty’s platoon
binoculared Chien exit the metal womb,
fish the AK-47 out of a modified lint trap hole,
& disappear into jungle. Each moon, Chien
returned to the appliance, shut the front-loader,
slept eight hours. “Why didn’t you shoot him?”,
I’d ask when I was smaller, eating three square
inside a shipped refrigerator’s cardboard box.
Matty said Americans don’t kill men like Chien,
Russians do & if Russians ever find me
sleeping anywhere – my mama’s lap, under a wind-
mill, on top of Old Smoky, the bough of a tree,
they’ll never ask my name,
just jam a live grenade
down my pajamas.
Photo by Charles Dawley