Jacques Rancourt

American Shrapnel

I’m aware of the dead’s hands on my shoulders,

their shoulders

                        torn by barbs and bottles, hands that lead

but do not aid. In the blue before morning


I come across you, and because I want someone

to kiss me   

                 I lock eyes with you like a sickle

locks wheat, like it pulls. The dead are not surprised


when you toss me from the chain links

to the brickyard. I’ve known

                                              this day would come

when my faith would be tested:


Are you a Christian? A man? A fag?

No, the cock crows,

                                 my grandfather unfolds

his fingers, gives me a gift from the war:


a cartridge case, and inside the case, a statue

of Mary. You fit my neck

                                         into your elbow,

give my jaw to the curb—before I was born


I wasn’t. Before morning the air smells like aspirin.

Be careful. My skull is full 

                                         of petition, a shell

inside a shell: a cartridge case, a battered virgin


in the shape of a bullet.



“American Shrapnel” is from Novena (Pleiades Press, 2017).