Two Poems

A Fading Date: December 16, 1952

The brown ammunition case contained an empty
M-1 clip, cross-rifled infantry pin, tan pistol belt,
a blue and white Korean Conflict ribbon
And a letter dated December 16, 1952.
Mike wrote the boy about the cold, about a medal
Said he wanted to be home for Christmas.
The printing in the letter was slanted.
Dolly was Mike's girl; she was also the babysitter.
The boy's father always walked Dolly home. One
night the boy heard all the shouting, heard that
Dolly wrote Mike a big lie, his mother divorcing.
Mike came home in Spring, married Dolly, drank.
The boy's father left and stopped sending money.
Dolly told Mike the truth then left for Little Rock
The boy never saw his brother again, ever.
That summer Mike shot himself in the temple.
The boy found the ammunition case in the attic
after his mother died. A garbage man uses the
ammunition case when he goes coon hunting
The boy now keeps the folded letter in his wallet
with the fading date, December 16, 1952.


Tough Titty

He worked construction. After work he
sat in my Uncle’s tavern drinking tap
beers. He was a Marine once but he was
kicked out for killing an officer in a bar
fight in Honolulu. They took his medals
away too. But he still wore a crew cut.
He was always his own man but to try
and break him, a Drill Sergeant tied an
ammunition case to his penis and then
ordered him to drop it. He did. Not me.
No Way Jose.
My Uncle said everyone liked him. He only
spoke about things he knew; the rest of the
time, he kept his mouth shut. If he saw me
on the street, he always said “hi, kid.” That
made me feel special. I was a teenager then,
carrying up case beer, stocking beer coolers,
listening, even had my own crew cut.
Then he was gone. I learned then that you
never know what happens to men who work
construction. They’re here and then, adios.
The other thing I learned was that you can be
right and you can be wrong at the same time.
And, if they decide you’re wrong, even when
you know you’re right, you just have to drop
the ammunition case, shut up and take it.
After my Uncle passed, I took over the tavern.
Sometimes I think about the customers who
pass through here, like that ex Marine. He’s
probably dead by now. I wonder what he would
say today ‘cause the Marine Corps announced
it don’t want no queers in their ranks. Who’s
right and who’s wrong about that one, beats me.
But I do know, one side is going to have to
drop their ammunition case and just take it.
For one of ‘em, tough titty. Glad it ain’t me.

—W. Frank, Milwaukee, WI