Fort Knox, Kentucky, 1966
Clad in green fatigues, red-faced with
103 degree fever, foam ear plugs from
the firing range still in place,
my brother half-staggers to the Falcon,
tells me he doesn’t know where the gold is,
says another degree and he’ll be in sick bay.
Twelve years old and so naïve I don’t know
why my brother and his wife want
to be left along in the motel room.
Back in the Falcon my father turns and turns
trying to find an all-night diner.
Was there, somewhere, a train’s fading whistle?
Were soldiers at that very moment changing
guard duty at the doors of great vaults?
Might their marriage have survived
had my brother’s wife conceived that night?
Unanswerable questions I plan to ask
a good novelist – or God, if given the chance.
Eighteen months later, home in Michigan,
shivering though spring is unseasonably warm,
he shows us the silk-backed dragon jacket
and a pocketful of strange-charactered coins
which might buy a night in Saigon,
or a gold Buddha made of brass.
The Off Season
The summer homes have been closed and shuttered.
The fish house is a faint smell and a sign
for smoked coho and next spring’s charter boats.
The fishwife looks so disconcertingly like
an old lover that for a moment you think
about staying to see Lake Michigan freeze.
The cement fountain is drained and filled
with dry leaves whose color the last tour of
tourists took back with them downstate in snapshots.
In the Family Tavern old men complain
about the weather, lost love and strawberries.
There are shiny new CD’s in the jukebox
(no one plays them), and picked eggs on the bar.
There’s a final concert at the opera house –
but it’s local folks playing for relatives.
Some of the summer places are mansion,
though most are clapboard boxes. Either way
if home is where you write the rent check, then
you settle for the local bed and breakfast.
Even with the cut in rates they’ve thrown in
an extra helping of silence and all
the longing you can stand to bring back for free.