I was driven out to visit Fred, the time his mother died. I remember best
his mother's legs,
all the swelling, all the pain. She would tell the children: "Come,
roll down my stockings, rub my legs for me."
and we would stop our noise and roll and rub--her tears
would leak and cling and creep across her face, like sweat.
There had been a wake, an open casket, spirits, lies,
Fred was living in a bunker
he had carved through hard, tough clay, through weeping gravel,
clear on down to clammy bedrock.
I would place my head against the deepest piece of rock,
listen for stochastic birth of cracks, for creep of cracks
Uphill from the bunker was the house he had abandoned.
In it, was a birthbed, long ago abandoned by
the woman who had slept and sweated there.
We had kissed and carried her,
we had placed her body into waiting clay;
underground, awake, her eldest keeping vigil.
There were children living in the bunker--wordless, moving, not
particularly clean. This wife seemed young.
She kept herself in shadow,
farthest from the bunker door, by the bedrock last to yield.
We were shown the shutters--cold steel, automatic--of his own invention,
made to cover up the bunker window, made to seal the bunker door against
atomic blast. I asked Fred what if
the bomb went off and there were children left outside?
When they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki
children turned to flame and burned like greasy rags. Children melted into
sooty little children-shadows, and their screams were left in silhouette.
Fred said if you walk outside, you're stupid. You deserve to die. You're dead.
We were shown the concrete and the corrugated steel,
trapdoor, mouth of cellar,
canned goods, rusted barrels
full of gasoline, rainwater, untreated sewage.
We were shown the shotguns, the ammunition, the family Bible.
I asked Fred what if
the bomb went off and there were people left outside who did not die?
Fred put on his greatcoat from the War to end all Wars,
made his firstborn wrap a horsehair blanket 'round the greatcoat arm,
tie it off with hemp.
Roaring, flailing greatcoat arms, Fred attacked the wife,
who shut her eyes but did not move.
From the cellar dark, an idiot mongrel--bigger than the greatcoat,
bigger than the man inside--attacked, attacked, attacked, attacked.
Rope and blanket, wet with dogfoam, loosened from the greatcoat arm:
there was bellowing and blood. Dog and wife
moved back towards the fractured bedrock. From the damp and shadows,
farthest from the bunker door,
dog and boy continued making noises in their throats.
Copyright John D Porter © 1997
[List of Poems]