Before I took a breath, before my blood
rerouted, while my eyes were still closed,
my parents argued about their individual
visions for me, and after hours, days, after
questions and explanations, they stepped into
each other’s dreams and chose my name.
Adam and Eve’s first responsibility
was naming the animals, and even then,
before sin and brokenness, before
the veil was torn to make things right again,
sitting there in that paradise they proposed
and compromised and did the best they could.
I visited my parents yesterday, and if you
were there, at first you might only notice
their faltering gaits, knobbled fingers,
and unwavering opinions,
but as the day progressed, you’d see
they’ve not forgotten how it felt
to hold me, stroke my hair, kiss
my baby cheeks, to sacrifice a lifetime—
to give me a name.
I thought about all the names written
in all the world in all time—
charcoal on cave walls, quill and ink on papyrus,
blue ballpoint on number ten envelopes, crayon
on school papers, typewriter ribbon
on essays, sharpies on name badges,
pixels on phone screens, fingers in red dirt—
How does the earth bear the weight of them?
I think you,
meaning the gray-haired audience
in a dark bar on the north side of Chicago,
will like our arrangement of this song.
The guitar glisses into space.
From closed eyes I see stars
pulsate down to a green pasture,
grazing, dead tree in the center.
Out of the ominous sky,
lightning. Tree flares
flame, grass too wet to catch.
I open my eyes, sit back. Irrelevance
hangs in the air like smoke.
The singer’s voice softens
to a whisper, tapping out
riders on the storm like impatient fingers
on a table, waiting for the next bright blaze.
Weight Bearing: Emerge Literary Journal (Issue 16)
Riders: exclusive first publication by iamb
What If Wars: won an Honorable Mention in the
Sinclair Community College Spectrum Awards 2015
and was published in the awards booklet
What If Wars
were fought by old people
say, 60, who have retirement in
and grandchildren they hope to
see grow up—
so they take vitamins
and do exercises or maybe yoga,
and eat organic and get eight hours
what if those old people were
dressed in camouflage and sent
to basic training where they
climbed over walls and crawled
under barbed wire while live ammunition
was shot over them
and then, having demonstrated their fitness,
were given guns and 50-pound packs
and loaded onto planes
to go to a country they may or may not be
able to point to on a map, a place where they
may or may not understand what is
being fought over, a place so far away that
they can’t come home for Christmas and
little ones will cry and say, ‘I miss my Grandma.’
And what if the other side did the same,
and the battlefields were filled with grandmothers
and grandfathers and great uncles and aunts
and brothers and sisters and mothers and
fathers, all in camouflage and all with guns—
You’ve already guessed this poem isn’t very clever
because you know what would happen:
The grandmothers would bring sugar cookies
and the grandfathers would share cigars and talk
about baseball or soccer, and the guns would be forgotten
as big picture albums were pulled from back pockets.
They would forget what they were supposed to
be fighting about, and host each other in their
respective homes, maybe a container on base here
or a tent there or a foxhole in between.
Because by the time you are old, it’s not that
you’re so feeble that you can’t remember, but
you know there are some things better
And by the time you are old, what you must
remember is that time is short and life is precious
and life is short. I apologize for repeating myself
but it’s so easy to forget.