LA Times Pick

With My Family on Memorial Day

Northridge Review, Vol. 4.1 (1986)

Wes Hempel

**This site was awarded a Times Pick by the Los Angeles Times on 5/23/97.**

We sit next to the barbecue, already two grown men
you with a family of your own
and listen to Uncle Frank tell how shrapnel
spread up the back of his legs
He waves a spatula at the smoke and fills his glass
as he talks, white foam spills over the sides
In Dresden the bodies like coals

I think of the only death I ever saw
We lived in a comfortable house then
four rooms behind the railroad tracks
a back porch, a walnut tree
bodies of cars in the yard

First we caught the frog in a potato chip bag
then dropped him into a pot of water
We were boys and your friend Mike said
if the temperature is raised slowly enough
the frog doesn't even notice

When the afternoon is over, you carry Jenny
on your shoulders to the car.  Donna pushes
Chris in the stroller.  Everyone kisses me goodbye

This is not something we do often.  Years creep
in between the days we see each other

Driving home, I think of the voices we listen to
the imperceptible progression
how it starts in the garage with a broken Volkswagen
Dad directing your hand on the wrench
There will always be cars to repair
So you follow him onto the floor of the shop
bend over engines where years of oil
slowly seep into the lines of your skin

At night you drive home to the same neighborhood
where the row of walnut trees, your daughter
in the driveway with a hose, your son lifting
his face from the edge of a bra, and the white head
climbing the sides of your glass
have nothing to do with choices

It is the same life we knew
with nothing but years between
nothing but slowness and gradation

It is not a question of happiness
or repair, the reassembly of a life

We have not returned with killings every night
a child's face ripped from his head
each time we close our eyes
the smoking remains of a man on his knees

We are two boys who yell Jump to a boiling frog
two men who do not know destruction
only this slow comfort, and the summer
gradually rising around us

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