Winter 2013 - THE POTOMAC

Armed and Dangerous

   Gene McCormick

Apartment 14–D, Park Avenue, NYC, 1947.

Stinging like chrome pellets blasting against her
forehead, an early winter rain blows hard gusts
throughout a dark, late Thursday afternoon
marking shorter days but longer nights.
The blonde battles the storm to her haven.

1922 had been carved into the cornerstone
of the brownstone apartment; for 25 years
improvements have been sparse to either
the lobby or interior rooms, the building
no longer boasting of luxury apartments.
Dripping rain, the female tenant stops briefly
in the lobby to check for mail. There is none.
Shaking rain from her hair, she enters the
elevator, empty except for Sid, the hunchback
elevator operator, who smiles and nods as
she says Fourteen, please. Wind in the shaft
whooshes around the rickety car, creating a
side-to-side wobble as they journey together.
Thank you, Nora says, taking off her heels
as she steps into the dim hallway, walking
barefoot to 14-D, three doors to the left.
The hunchback drops the car back to the lobby.

Fourteen floors up is not too high for the music
of the city to play out: tires running over streets
purple with rain. Honking, brakes, shouts.
Fourteen floors closer to lightning and thunder.

A vacuum is being run in 14–C, back and forth,
back and forth over deep carpet.

He is leaning against a wall in the
far corner of the darkened apartment.
I’ll dry your hair, he says as she reaches over
to turn on the table lamp—the orange glow
complements a scarlet setting sun.

Hank’s voice startles her, but she doesn’t let on.
Forget my hair, she says, shrugging out of
the soaked dress. You can towel off my back.
Feeling him rub against her as he dries her back,
she laughs: Is that a gun in your pocket
or are you just glad to see me?
Both, Hank says, laying his Navy service
pistol—a nickel gray Colt .45 1911–A–1 automatic
without aesthetic appeal—dumb,
violent—on the end table and setting out
two cocktail glasses: Let’s drink.

Mail Call In The Pacific

Known as “The Big Stick,” the battleship
USS Iowa was commissioned in WWII
with a complement of 2,788 officers and enlisted
along with nine 16–inch armor–piercing naval
guns with a range of 23 miles, and twenty
5-inch .38 caliber guns with a range of 12 miles,
abetted by anti–aircraft guns.
The 45,000–ton ship was trusted to chauffeur
FDR to summits through the Atlantic
before powering the Pacific to soften up
enemy beachheads for amphibious landings.
Ports of call included the Marshall Islands,
the Philippines and mainland Japan.

Mail posted to or from the ship
to the state for which it was named took
interminably long to render personal news
that seldom proved heartening:
Men came today to repossess the car...
I know you’ve been gone for nearly
a year, but I’m six months pregnant...
Doctors put your father on nitroglycerin...
I run over the dog backing out of the driveway
Your brother Bill’s been stoppin’ by regular...
Dear John...

A slate wiped clean on translucent stationery.

Still a force during the Korean War,
The Big Stick exploded its will and might
in raids on the North Korean coast,
suffering its most serious damage only after
mothballed into semi-retirement in 1989
when a turret gun detonated, killing 47 hands
whose families received “I regret to inform you”
form letters from President George H. W. Bush.
Having earned eleven battle stars, the USS Iowa
was decommissioned in 1990, and is now
berthed in the port of Los Angeles.

Des Moines Rooftop, 1989

Her name is Linda, it was never Nora;
it is 1989, a lifetime beyond 1947.
Precisely forty–two years.
Hank, whose given name was Arvin, is gone.

She teeters atop a ten-story building, high winds
lash her thin dress around trembling legs.
Below, cars, trucks, people have a purpose.
Not just background in her life. But thin2gs to do
and places to be, a schedule, important to somebody.
She sees neither Park Avenue nor a brownstone,
it is not New York City.
This is downtown Des Moines, Iowa.
Facing a match-flame sunset, the widow partners
with the symphony of the city, gingham dress
flapping in the wind, flying.

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