Brent Goodman is the author of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me (2009 Black
Lawrence Press), finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Thom Gunn Award,
and the forthcoming Far From Sudden (2012 Black Lawrence Press). He lives and
works in Rhinelander, Wisconsin (USA).
"Armless Iraqi Boy Bears No Grudges for U.S. Bombing"
Doctors hope to fit him with rotating wrists and
electrical hands that will allow him to do things
like hold a book and turn the pages.
—Reuters, August 11, 2003
We know it is difficult to look at
when parts of him are still missing.
It will take some time for his charred skin
to completely slough off. It will take longer
for his arm stumps to forget how to carry
and for the two ragged holes to close.
His condition is improving. We have replaced
his eyes with rubble, his ears with crosshairs,
his mouth a khaki radio. We know
it is difficult to look at. Through his translator
he tells us he's grateful. We've replaced
his hair with burning oil fields, his stomach
for expired reservist rations, his broken spine
with a chalk-blue contrail. This is
expensive business. We are lucky to have allies
who help us carry the bill. An armless torso
is difficult to look at. He bears no grudges.
We have replaced his hands with fire, his legs
with landing gear, his entire family with shrapnel.
His father, pregnant mother, brother, aunt, three cousins
could not be untangled from the smoking rebar
where we found him. His arms would not
let go. Through his translator he tells us
he is lucky to have been saved. Even for us
this is difficult to talk about. He is only one
example. There are many more we must help.
We hope someday they will eventually
forgive us. We might never find the right words
to carry what we're trying to exactly say.
At four I nearly died after a minor dog bite. One incisor sank into my palm and punctured my lifeline. The gray death traced my veins up my left arm to my shoulder, inches from my heart. Two weeks in the hospital, a green ceramic planter on my nightstand embossed with a smiling clown clutching multicolor balloons. Flowers bloomed from his head. Downtown Milwaukee, 36 floors vaulted into the skyline. My older brother Mark was too young to visit, so my mom would walk me to the window and lift me up to search the distant sidewalk below where he and my dad were supposed to be waiting. This was my small death, one which would eventually swallow him entirely. I waved back, though I never remember seeing them. They waved back, though the outside windows mirrored the sky.
Why I Can't Write a Paris Poem
Because escargot drowns in garlic herb butter and fume blanc
the night of my arrival. Because a suicide leapt under the metro
turning everyone around at Gare du Nord and still
I navigated your rented 4th floor efficiency by instinct alone.
Because the Arts Board ladled cash onto something unfinished
and I trusted Hemingway's ghost in the Latin Quarter would
forgive me for never having read his work. Because
I was 26. Because our friendship began with fan mail.
Because you insisted jetlag is cured by ignoring
what country your body thinks it's in. Because your wife
was natively fluent. Because salt peanuts and beer and spiced olives:
mélange piquant dripping oil from a merchant cart along Rue Mouffetard.
Because you offered me a day writing in C.K. Williams' studio
but reconsidered turning over the keys. Because you were right
not to. Because drunk in Place Pigalle I stumbled into a parlor
and asked for a massage and she thought I meant with her mouth.
Because your manuscript was centuries stronger than mine.
Because Rilke's panther yet paces the Jardin des Plantes
and I posed in front of a sign heralding Le Printemps des Poetes
thinking all of this my season. Because every photo I brought back
I developed black and white. Because composition is closer
to beauty than what the eye believes the color of things.
In San Jose I am closer to the ocean
where I take a stool alone at the hotel bar,
order my martini and five shucked half shells
across a bed of ice and pepper-sharp sea beans,
plump briny flesh glistening in blue-white
iridescent light. Outside the mirrored glass facade,
downtown hurries past, each soul tuned inward
toward their own distant voices. I slurp history
into my mouth, salty sweet memory I hold
for a moment against my tongue: the first
gentle figure in darkness who arched her back
to my curious blindness, or later the young men
who taught me how to softly open my mouth
for love. How each time I wanted to remain there
until the ocean swelled and shuddered in slow waves.
What small embarrassment to think this now
as Roberto clears my plate and pours my second drink,
deep brown eyes born on a continent I'll never visit.
How I long after dark to roam this distant city
searching for another skin to press into my own,
to pry my shyness open like a shell. How what we want
will always share the moon with the sea, each small desire
emptying into something curved and waiting to fill again.
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