for Neal D. Courtney, Cambodia 1969-70

Years before his bedridden blindness,
my sobriety,
there was day-tripping
through the National Mall’s
gazing pool—The Three Soldiers—
an embossed flask
against my father’s belt buckle.
He poured shot after shot
of off-brand bourbon into cut-glass,

chain-smoked Chesterfield’s, rolled spliffs,
offering me a swallow,

a medicinal hit
from the same ashen hand
that formed his fist
that christened drywall,
my mother’s lip.
Fever wasn’t the only thing to break
in Cambodia,
in roadside ditches dark
as umbilical blood.
There was the slug fired from the angel-end
of his rifle,
ripping through eucalyptus leaves.
There was him,

left in tourniquet grass
to shepherd home our dead.
Now, when he sits
on the crag and tells me of the world’s
original fire,
how black wasps carouselled
the tongues of bloated bison,
I believe him.
No maggot went unfed.

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Iowa, served four years in the United States Navy (Operation Enduring Freedom), and is a graduate of the MFA program at Hollins University. His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, The Journal, Cream City Review, and 32 Poems, among many others. His book The Grief Muscles is forthcoming from The Sheep Meadow Press. Thrush Press published his chapbook Improvised Devices. He is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

Feature image by Hin Chua. Courtesy of the artist

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