Shrapnel, Rod Williams

Red Canyon Petroglyph




Rub my back, commanded Bill my
father, so my small obedient hands
roamed over his hairy shoulders, his
muscles and his muscles gone to fat,
the narrow ridge of his spine.  He
hummed “Moonlight in Vermont”
from years ago.  I worked my way
counterclockwise over the topography
of his skin and stopped where I
always stopped, at the base of his
back, at the crater the diameter of a
softball, deep enough to fit my tiny
fist in.  Don’t worry, he whispered;
it’s healed.  By healed he meant
there was no pain when my fingers
limned the puckered flesh of the
once-terrible wound.  Africa, when
he was sixteen, blindsided by one
of Rommel’s rocket launchers.  Five
months in an Army hospital, then
morphine and morphine withdrawals.
He’d lied about his age to fight in
the great war; now, two decades later
he bore the indentation and pink
serrated scars of that lie.  Inside,
there was still shrapnel the doctors
were afraid to remove, chunks that
drifted in harmless orbits within his
tissues.  Now and then a metal splinter
bulged out from his back, broke the
skin and surfaced just like his anger,
quiet at first but then loose in the
world.  I’d pluck it out with tweezers
and chink it into a green glass ashtray.
Doesn’t it hurt?  Not any more.  His
voice exhausted, his massive shoulders
slumped, gray wires of hair curled
along his squat neck.  Not any more.
And he hummed “Moonlight in
Vermont” from years ago.

Rod Williams


Review by Jared Pearce

The images and sounds and pace and theme roll together beautifully in this poem.

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