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.