On Looking at a Photo of Two Soldiers
on the Wall in Costello’s Bar, Saint Paul
Both men are smiling. One man is leaning on the jeep’s bumper,
rifle rooted to the ground, hand holding
ever so loosely.
The other man stands beside him, holding
before him the rising sun
against snow-white cloth.
And you are staring at them, too, head
turned over your shoulder,
describing to me what cannot be seen:
the man they must have killed for his
still lying just out of view of the
road where they found him sleeping,
as if he had forgotten about the war
or simply ceased to care,
the sun overhead against a cloudless
sky the last thing he saw before drifting off.
Your back still turned to me, you tell
me of the time you were fishing
and were dragged under by the current
and carried down-stream.
You came to a stop near the bank where
had faded to a shallow brook and could
not carry you further,
and you slept because you were far
from home and tired.
It is hard now to imagine the story
of the photo
could be told any other way, the two
of us with nothing more to say,
staring at the wall, the two men holding
up the flag to us
as if we, too, were lying back into
the tall grass at midday,
leaving so much left undone, the wind
off the Hennepin Bridge
From here, downtown is magnificent.
Bright, against the dull haze of cloud
fits so easily into so many different
places: in the
office windows across the river, in
the face of the moon, and
in the puddles that still dot the earth
after this afternoon’s rain.
Even in these bricks in the street,
as if placed here like seeds.
To think, last night, just a few blocks
from here two men
were shot to death over nothing. The
man who did it was
found at home, sitting in front of
the TV. He was watching
the news for his story. The men were
no one he knew.
Said he kissed each man, full on the
lips before he shot
them. Told them Jesus loved them and
they would be
saved. He just needed their wallets.
He needed to eat
and he wanted a beer. Nothing more.
Man’s gotta eat, ya know. Man’s
Trick or treaters approach me, howling
When they pass me, they pass by silently.
Eyes straight ahead. Fingers clutching
their candy bags.
I watch them disappear around the bend.
A squad car drifts up slowly.
The man at the wheel tells me that
I should move on. Maybe because
I’m smiling, because I seem too
interested, and I’m writing all this down.
Ralph Pennel teaches creative writing, composition
and literature online for Globe University in Minnesota and currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.