Freezing Rain

I still carry my grandfather’s

German plane bullet in my asthmatic lung

When he flew his best friend’s head home

In his lap


He was hailed a hero and promptly served a pint

But never stopped drinking;

Got too drunk to talk to anyone

Cracked his head


On the unforgiving sidewalk

Of post-war Nebraska


Met a beautiful actress

Fell in love to Shakespeare

Took up pretending

Kept on drinking


Was dazzled by warm stage light

And sweaty makeup, applause

Only to find the theatre dark and desolate

Dotted with crumpled wax paper cups


He got bitter and he got T.B.

He got drunk. A lot.


God knows what he’d done

But my grandmother had to lay him flat

On the linoleum kitchen floor

With a cast-iron skillet


1949. A two-year-old over her shoulder.

Headed for Arkansas.


I carry his tubercles in my lungs

Along with the bullet and an apology

And a Shinto prayer booklet half the size of my palm

Pulled off the body of a dead Jap soldier at Kohima


I will not sleep until it is returned to his family.


His family knows he was not a monster;

He was a poor boy who got a yellow note

Sent on the cruel enterprise of conquest in others’ names


My ancestors roll in their graves as I speak

The dull pain of the 20 caliber Mauser bullet in my lung rattles and I cough blood

My step-grandfather picks gravel out of his pizza as he shuns me


My grandmother lowers her eyes away from the shop floor

Where I am below her sitting indian style with autoworkers.