THE WARTIME ISSUE

Adam Chiles

 

TUCSON ELEGY

Drunk and jacketed, he leans at our doorways, his face
lit by a sputtering match. A small heat

pushed through his lung. Let us leave him there,
off key, his feet shuffling in the soft dirt.

Lift your shot glasses – let us toast the green wings
of the Saguaros, for they are wounded saints.

How tough each has become in its punishment.

What is pulled from the sand each day – let us call it a stubborn gesture.
The resignation of the Palo Verde as it rests a twisted limb

against this heat. Let us gather under the few leaves

as men gather under the palms of Baghdad, pausing a moment,
to breathe. All afternoon the image of a man

walking across our screens. All afternoon his searching,
trying to match the number in his hand to a single buried marker.

Can you taste it? All afternoon his kneeling down
in the bleached cemetery, kissing the forehead of his brother,

the bones laid out on white cloth. It is almost enough.

Almost enough for us. For we have driven all night, the news
burning into us, and into us like dust.

We stand over the body. Unjacketed, naked across the table.
Sleeping – yes, let us call it that.

Soon we will begin washing him. Soon it will be done.

Driving south, between cities, a part of us vanishes each day,
and scouting the far hills, how often have we lingered? 

Returning home, we return to our hands, their subtle directives
and a word seems poised in us then. We turn off the highway,

silenced, as though this too could be enough.
Tonight, December lights in the adobe opposite – their incessant blinking,

a blue carol for the desert palms. Our friend sending out his code.
Pushing his small heat through us. 

Let us drink. Press down on the limes between our lips.
And again, the red bulbs pulsing – my cigarette

a steady answer, its lit head tossing in the wind. Can you see it?

for Owen

 

Adam Chiles' work recently appeared or is forthcoming in Arc, Phoebe, Poet Lore, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Indiana Review, The Cimarron Review, Isotope, Painted Bride Quarterly and Perihelion. He was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the 2003-2004 Reginald S. Tickner Fellow in Creative Writing at Gilman School in Baltimore. He currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Cesar Chavez Charter school in Washington, D.C.

 

Published in Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 2006.