John, it's startling to think of you again,
dead now for a quarter century--
your baggy shorts, foggy glasses, and sharp-breaking
curveball conjured up for a writing
exercise in a coffee shop.
The day you scattered your brains
on the floor of that Esso station,
did you know that I was breaking off that curve you taught me... was sliding off a cool summer raft...
and was looking forward to watching Archie
argue with Meathead that evening?
What did I know of that Goddamn war?
I was 11 when you went to Vietnam.
The night of your going-away party you were stern-faced,
bright-eyed and vigorous. Those ...... were no match for our John.
You patted my head and told me to keep cool.
I was 13 when you returned.
I had kissed a girl.
You were distracted, empty and drunk.
I didn't know you.
Only if you could have forgotten what happened
in that jungle--forgotten that wriggling head seething
in horror as you blew it into red, stew-like pieces.
Did the ghost of that head follow you back home?
Did it drape itself over your soul, like a black shroud
over a translucent corpse?
Was it with you the day you shot yourself?
When you came back to Pennsylvania,
you saw that head locked in your mind’s eye--
it wouldn’t budge. So you moved.
I think about America in chaos then--
I think about one day freezing solid--
I go outside and snap off that curve you
showed me a quarter century ago.
I threw it just like you taught me--
low and outside to a right-handed hitter.
John, I blew that batter away.
BY: Phil Allard