wounded men seldom come home to die
BY AUSTIN SMITH
And this is why: when a wounded man comes home
To die he must come in through the summer kitchen,
Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling.
At the sight of him his mother faints. He catches her
Just in time and lays her down on the floor.
When his sister comes in from slopping hogs to find her
Brother at the table with his long legs kicked out
And their mother senseless on the linoleum, she sighs
And unbuttons his shirt. The wound isn’t visible yet,
It’s still drifting around inside his body, bouncing
Under his skin like a man swimming under ice,
Desperate to find the place where he fell through.
When the wound surfaces, that’s when she’ll know
Whether he’ll live or die. For now, his eyes are calm
And blue. He asks her which boys have been bothering her
At school. She knows not to ask him where he’s been.
When their mother comes to, she insists she’s fine.
“It’s just this heat is all,” she says. After putting a pot
Of coffee on, she says, “Now if you’ll excuse me,
I’m going upstairs and close my eyes awhile.”
There’s blood soaking through his white tee-shirt now.
His sister pretends not to see it. They talk through the evening.
Around midnight she tells him the sheets on his bed are clean.
He thanks her and tells her he might sit on the porch,
Watch fireflies like he used to when he was little.
In the morning his bed hasn’t been slept in. There’s no note
On the kitchen table, just a few fireflies in a Mason jar,
Holes punched in the tin lid so they can breathe.
Austin Smith’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, New England Review, Yale Review, Sewanee Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Pleiades, ZYZZYVA, Poetry East, and Midwest Quarterly, amongst others. His first full-length collection, ALMANAC, was chosen by Paul Muldoon for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. His second collection, FLYOVER COUNTRY, was chosen by Susan Stewart for the same series, and is forthcoming from Princeton in September 2018. Smith received an MA in poetry from UC-Davis, an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia, and was a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University in Fiction, where he teaches courses in poetry, fiction, environmental literature, and documentary journalism. He was recently awarded a 2018 grant in prose from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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