Winter 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Three Prose Poems
   Shannon Davis

what comes down from heaven

I am not talking about the Patriot Act because I haven't read it I am not talking about the Geneva Convention because I haven't read it I am not talking about Guantánamo because I've never been there I am not talking about New York or Rwanda or Baghdad or undisclosed locations

I am not talking about changing anything with my poems because I see the same footage as you but I no longer believe it I no longer believe you exist sometimes I am talking about only giving a damn about myself because that's all I know when some fucking kid who's never been out of Colorado starts shooting his mouth off about shit he don't even know evil and imperialism Condoleezza Rice Abu Ghraib because Pacifica is where you get your news and I don't even listen to them anymore I can look at you and know you'd kill me and I'd kill you if the right person said so which doesn't even upset me anymore what upsets me is being told I don't know anything because I'm young I don't work the numbers I'm not enlisted I slept through History I didn't cry during Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan

I carry the memory of September 11th in my body and you don't get to have that you don't get to know the sound of your father recalled from retirement and extended for two more years until it's "no longer a priority" to have top-level clearance on the Middle East/North Africa desk or your mother telling you that his office was a possible target while you were in Physics class the National Security Agency at Fort George Meade Maryland and to be so fucking grateful for several thousand dead who are not your family

Rachel taught me how to write my name in Arabic and today I learned that the Arabic word for cowboy is cowboy I do not know how to reclaim my language I do not know how to walk gently when I'm ready to roll on you the second you insult my friend in a bar

do not ask me to be happy for boys like my cousin who are off playing cowboy in the desert don't tell me I'm a smartass for saying that when all I get are secondhand rebukes for excessive force during an interrogation and emails about killing the bad guys and pictures of Chad on a camel Chad playing with the kids Chad cleaning his rifle pictures green with night vision Chad Chad maybe you'll come back maybe you'll be all right maybe you'll keep your head down maybe you hate it there maybe you don't maybe you should have gone straight intel and not fucked around playing good-cop/bad-cop but I'm still talking about what I've got no business to because you're there and I'm not and you are tougher than I even if it keeps you awake for the rest of your life

I am not trying to be political I do not want to be political I don't care about George W. Bush because I can't do anything about him I tried and it didn't work I give him up like I gave up drinking I might slip now and then but for the most part he stays out of my head

I don't even know who they are anymore but they are telling me that this war is just this is holy this is to make sure we don't have to do it anymore and they have been saying that since 1914 I want to hear something new but it seems like the only people worth listening to are all dead the dead are speaking for the living because the living are constantly talking over each other


for Rachel

I know how he feels, she said/you never know what might happen/what something you did might cause/whose job you might steal/if someone died because of you

and then I think I started to understand how 40 years can wear you down like that/at age 7 "my daddy is a spy"/15 "he works for the government"/21 "he skins badgers for all I know"/never bothering what "business trip" really meant as long as I got a souvenir t-shirt/the distinguished-service plaques dusty in the basement

she is my lesson in cryptography/the age of a sister I've never met/who is someone else's life/but she has been all the places I wanted to go when I should have been in bed asleep waiting for the key in the lock/no one else's sister/there were always Far Side cartoons in my place at breakfast/my father sleeping as the rest of the world woke up


my grandmother is all the history I can remember and we are not even related by blood. this woman – Eva Vicenty/Eva Szabo/Eva Reggio – I revere the strength in her frail, her paprikash and Yule log cake, her Bavarian painting and the cabinet she made for me, the husband and son she buried, her accented English.

when I was maybe six I created my first book. it was in Magic Marker and all about unicorns. I read it to her, emphasizing the good parts while she translated for her mother, Márta, a bronze-medal Olympic gymnast who as far as I could tell was older than God and whose English was not so good.

I have forgotten the Hungarian word for unicorn.

when she died I felt the loss. I had not thought to ask about her life or her country or what she thought of America. my language has no words from hers. if I could find my old t-shirt, cheaply embroidered with "I ? Budapest" I would wear it.

I was born of decidedly American parents into a culture that has no past. it was their luck to bring a child into this renegade land which casts a shadow barely 228 years short, an epoch of no consequence in my grandmother's country.

I can count on one hand those to whom I belong.

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