Poet Laureate Emeritus of Sacramento, Indigo Moor’s fourth book of poetry, Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something, took second place in the University of Nebraska Press’ Backwater Prize. Jonesin’—will be published in spring 2021. His second book, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, won Northwestern University Press’s Cave Canem prize. His first and third books, Tap-Root and In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers, were both parts of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series. Indigo is an adjunct professor at Dominican University and visiting faculty for Dominican’s MFA program, teaching poetry and short fiction. He is a Cave Canem fellow, former resident artist at 916 ink, and a graduate member of the Artists’ Residency Institute for Teaching Artists.
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Driving a street whose name
is lost to this crippling narrative,
I spot my brother stumbling
drunk on another Sacramento
heatwave. Lost in the needle
song I was too stupid too soft
too something to protect him from.
Don’t blame me. It was my car that
hopped two yellow lines in an angry crescent,
switching lanes like channels, like a dog
rushing to heel at the feet of a lost master.
Temples of dust rose from the ditch.
I flung the door open, my heart wedged
beneath my seatbelt, fluttering like a fat
moth in my chest. Was I Ahab
or the whale? The iron-sharp
harpoon or the pale giant’s triumph?
Either stifling heat or grief baked
my mind simple. Yes, this man’s
Pompei-flaked skin and helpless grin
are the same as the brother
I knew, trapped in a body ravaged
by mortar blast, a prison where all the keys
are swallowed by angry Gods.
But I lost that brother two decades
and an Iraqi leap away. This stranger’s wariness
says all you need to know
about the silence between that afternoon
and me those last seconds; a sparrow dead
on its perch. His shoulder
brushed my bumper as he listed
through a fresh wave of dust devils.
What he mumbles
at my closing door before
tilting away, I will never know.
But I believe it was I love you.
As my car dug out of the ditch,
I swear to you that’s what he said.
Hot concrete beckons the raccoon
until it scutters across the driveway
in broad daylight, surely rabid,
unconcerned with death or afterlife or
the cat he mauled in the brambles across
the street or the dog that tore his ear
into a crimson rag flopping over one eye.
The Dodge Dart’s smile littered with bugs.
Wooden blocks for tires, a tarnished grill,
and slanted grin. Skinny tomatoes staked
to a dying garden glisten beneath sprinklers.
His eyes stone fixed on a fake horizon, flaking
skyline of the neighbor’s wooden fence.
In the next yard, an aging Doberman is waiting
under a fruitless Japanese myrtle, spoiling
for a fight, a reblossoming of past glories.
In the house, the owner eats, as if it is his idea,
ramen three times a day. Even the canned
beets wait in triage, soldiers knowing the next
scalpel is for them. Tapered candles in mason
jars dot the inner landscape like mute, accusatory
children, awaiting nightfall, awaiting usefulness.
The raccoon, his fur molting in clumps, every
drop of water a hot swelling his throat, stares
at the tomatoes, then the man in the window.
A thickness worms through both their eyes.
There is respite over the next fence for both
of them, if they can find the strength to climb.
He knows it as surely as he knows it’s a lie.
Finder of Lost Sheep
For Michael Llewelyn's photography workshop for veterans
Do they know your camera cutting
through the sawgrass has got their back
more than a rifle or machete ever will?
Most vets are stateside when
the domino—once fallen—jumps back
upright, roll-calling them back to a minefield.
Something as simple as a sparkler
tossed across a manicured lawn on the fourth
blasts a tunnel open to a sallow field in Vietnam.
Michael can't know if fingers that
balanced tripwires on a blade of grass
can set shutters fast enough to fill
a hole in memories and lost sunsets.
But, dammit, somebody's got to teach
these survivors the difference between
a rifle barrel and a child's arm.
The dull copper scent of VA bunks scatters
reason like a hornet's nest dragged across cement.
Past-due mortgage bills roll up
to mortar tubes. When the smoke clears,
there's Michael hauling a hurdy-gurdy
of flags into focus like butterfly
wings pinned to cork and balsa wood.
Someone opens a cave in a pantry door.
A sniper's bullet rises like quail
from a field. A point-man pours, then repours
the same cup of gasoline on his head,
setting decades ablaze. It's always
the leaden crevices that nest the most fears.
Where the camera flash needs to dig deepest.
A sergeant's silhouette ghosts
across a polished lens. Then scurries back
into the underbrush. These soldiers hopped
a broom with the devil.
Now they struggle with stillness
as a flashlight sets the focal point
on the back of their irises,
pulling at whatever secrets the mind
stashed away in rusted footlockers.
If our loved ones' days end
with a lynchpin blowing their mind
to smithereens, aren't we all doomed?
Cue Michael, huddled
over a tripod like the last Lord of Regret,
trying to drag a kill shot back into a barrel.