I’m aware of the dead’s hands on my 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).