Benevolence of Forgetting
Each war contains within it the seeds of a fresh war
1958: You were the last of boys to slaughter properly. We did not think you had it in you. I claimed I would do it for you. To this, my brother, you placed damp palms to my back, pushing me away. In near distance, fire blazed fields–cleansing a wrecked harvest from memory. The forced irrigation our father built had redirected to its source and silos stood like empty gods, blighted white against massive spans of blue. Poised above stained block, you held bird and blade far from each other. Perched bare-chested on post, blown-out jeans and splintered wood underfoot in August sun–nine years–your sister. I was the only one who knew you did not want to kill that bird we’d raised from yellow-down chick. Two swings, one too many, you dropped to your knees at the slaughter block like a boy in prayer. I don’t recall launching off my post, but chased that headless body down while it frantically bounced round field in protest to its execution. Its spurs tearing to scar. Finally catching the rooster, I held his warm body to mine till he lay still. I rose, bloodied, offering up the bird to you, who reached down to take the kill. Even in death, I hear the mantra of our father’s frustration as he bellows your failure. And the world made you . . .who you believed you should be.
1969: You come back to us, Brother, once you have proven yourself as man. Your breast laden with tarnished Purple Hearts and your mind heavy as sodden plum rotting in the jungle where you buried your own brothers’ bones and carefully kicked silver tags to split skull for the miracle of recovery. And you ran and you ran and you ran and kept running, even in your dreams, but they followed. So you crouched evenings in the corner of our grain barn, running your thumb over the edge of your first weapon. Touched with wetted tongue to taste its pitted rust. Here you remained in a tomb of remembering, until the drought lifted and rains came to wash your memory back to days of seed. . .
When we are old and bent, and our father’s wars have been laid to rest–when he has been long in the cracked earth, his bleached marker tilting toward sun–we shall toss seed with knotted fist to Bantam fowl who drink freely at river’s edge, leaning back to let water slide down their frail throats. You will stroke one so sweetly in your arms, it purrs in the crook of your neck like a cat. The benevolence of forgetting both takes and gives, like God. For there you will confess your only recollection of that slaughter: how glorious, my chest. It was beautiful in the afternoon glow, all glazed with sunlight like a finger painting of beet juice and bird feathers.
Dani Sandal's writing has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Monkeybicycle, Mad Hatter's Review, PANK, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Deep South Magazine, and many other fine places, including the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2013. She holds an MFA from George Mason University, and has the continuous pleasure of raising the coolest kid ever, Holden.
Dani, you walked a tightrope, here, with admirable success. Close memories of family mostly send readers running in horror; but this is too real to turn from. Bravo!
Ted Jean, It's Dani -- and thank you. Glad I didn't send you running in horror, but kept you to me till the end. It's all I can hope for, and the lovely praise is just some sweet icing on top! Thank you for reading.
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