Basic Training by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
Hunting each other through the South Asian jungle of our New Mexican yard as silent as toads under street lamp light our lost fathers beside us like moths in the closet drawn to photos in the bottom of a box we can never quite reach to capture or kill or just let it go this stalking this searching this hand on your shoulder raising the barrel at the boy in your sites.
Hanging in place fingers knitted and knotted on the backyard swings your big brother’s baton like the drill sergeants smile in The Dirty Dozen or The Great Escape he is molding his men don’t talk don’t cry don’t dare let go he is trying to teach you the way to survive to swallow the silence he knows what he means he lives there himself behind the enemy lines of his dreams.
Dodging artillery dirt clods and rocks your trash-can-lid shield a moving target shrapnel explodes your big brother says remember to die with both hands raised as if touching clouds or pulling down curtains across your front window still holding the smoke of your father’s Pall Malls exposing nails along the white walls holes and impressions stained red from rust.
Lighting a match for the man on the grill his bayonet held high through the gusts of laughter and lighter fluid smoke the ghost left watching from toys on the floor his featureless face as smooth as a jungle just burn it all down just start it all over a pyre or a prayer or some kind of penance plastic dissolving like composure like grief like dripping black beads into ash.
Lobbing grenades from a carton of eggs at the distant headlights along Guadalupe Trail a runway of bombers on a midnight run always coming or going but never remaining to see you standing in beer bottles and butts both hands to your chest as if cradling a bird at the bottom of a box but tending instead a blossom of wire a nest of flesh the faintest blue flame.
Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of the award-winning Descanso for My Father and Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams. His lyric essays and prose poems have appeared widely in TriQuarterly, Brevity, Juxtaprose, and elsewhere.
Photo by Maxim Potkin