The Mountains of Korea and Other Poems

The Mountains of Korea

The sailboat our father began building before the war
gazed at us from his workshop the entire time
his letters arrived from Korea, the sheaths of paper
a poor substitute for a thing that could harness the wind
in a backyard pond. My brother and I kept staring
at the unfinished project as though it were the unfinished
love of our father. And when he arrived home
and described the mountains of Korea, we begged him
to complete the boat, and although our mother told us
he had more important things on which to concentrate
than a toy, we nagged him until he presented us with
the finished artifact and showed us how to launch it
across the wrinkled waves. And if before the war
our father’s temper had been a slow orbit, now it made
frenetic circles around our days. Once my brother and I
watched him beat a horse with a switch because it refused
to climb into a trailer. But only many years later
did our mother refer to those postwar days
as his derangement, though the only thing
our father ever told us about his time overseas
was of the beauty of the Sobuk-san mountains,
where—our mother explained—he’d lost three
friends and had killed a man with an M5 bayonet.
Then it was summer, and my brother and I became
obsessed with cherry bombs and M-80s, throwing them
at each other and blowing up wasp nests and cans
and scaring the family dog. But when we placed and lit
four of the fireworks on our father’s boat then pushed
it out from shore, the explosion was the most beautiful
thing we’d ever seen. Our mother, watching from
the kitchen window, came racing out, certain
our father would beat us, but when he joined us
at the pond’s edge and gazed across the water at
the wreckage, he laughed so hard that he dropped
finally to his knees. And our mother, shaking her head,
announced loudly that all of us were idiots, then
stepped back inside the house to fix supper.

prayer for all the drunks to be our fathers

People on couch
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