When dad’s grief

unbottled itself,

when he could not square

 

his guilt over the dad

he could not love,

when his beast of a past

 

coiled him, a rattler

ready to strike,

he would tell the story.

 

I still try to picture it,

my grandfather,

deep lines in his red face,

 

trademark overalls,

a Fedora tipped

over one eye,

 

ordering a whiskey

from a line of bottles

behind bored barkeeps,

 

the bar’s stale gloom,

barely visible through

the smoke of Camels

 

fingered by old drinkers

schlumped on stools,

regulars like him

 

who wished he’d

get on with it, shoot

the bitch and bastard,

 

or shut the fuck up.

No one this night noticed

how his pocket curved,

 

saw his old Army pistol,

a loaded Colt .45,

that minutes later

 

just outside their reach

would bare

its yellow heat

 

into the bar’s plate

glass, didn’t guess

how whiskey still

 

in hand, he’d smoke

the orange circles

of streetlights

 

and red neons

flashing nickel beer

and Budweiser,

 

or how bar mirrors

would reflect a man

slurried in a slough

 

of his own making

melt down on a

cracked sidewalk,

 

alone with the years

that tripped

him there,

 

his boy left behind,

frozen in time

no feeling in his blue feet.

 

by Janet Reed

 

Janet Reed is a 2017 and 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nassau Review, Chiron Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Avalon Review, I-70 Review, and others. She is at work on her first collection and teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.

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