April 7, 2017

Patrick Rosal

A MEMORY ON THE EVE OF THE RETURN OF THE U.S. MILITARY TO SUBIC BAY

Every day        in America 
       I am trying                 to be taken        
seriously        
                            When 
       the United States               last 
owned               the naval base       at Subic Bay
my uncle        (my father’s        distant
          cousin)     was a colonel     in charge 
                      of Philippine forces       under 
              Marcos      On our first      and only
visit                to  the Philippines
       my brother        (maybe        eight) 
and I        (thirteen?)        were left 
alone        in my uncle’s        house
       with one        of my uncle’s 
guards        and my uncle’s        grandson—
a boy                maybe   five And 
when the guard        dashed out 
to eat lunch        he left     the front door 
                       open 
and the five-year-old        with us 
                     The sentry 
had slid        his gun        under a small table 
beside the door                   And the boy 
          who spoke        no English 
picked up        the automatic        and 
           pointed the rifle      at my chest 
then 
           my brother’s 
                                    head 
         The boy 
                       was smiling 
It must have been              funny 
           on the other        side 
of the gun               I couldn’t        simply stroll        
           my little brother       past the barrel        
   to the door        where it was        a bright       
       blue day           I couldn’t see       
the safety        from where        I was standing 
                            So I said 
Put that        down        I’m serious 
       and the boy        laughed 
I said Put it        down    It’s not        a joke 
            and the boy        laughed 
            some more        He laughed       
in the colonel’s     language       and 
he laughed       in mine      as if we all 
understood       the laughter     I’m serious 
                  Sometimes 
I think there 
                     are two countries 
                                                 one 
on either side        of a gun There 
are guns        at the borders        but 
that’s how        borders        are made 
They        are made        of guns 
              I’m
                            serious

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016
2016 Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Patrick Rosal: “I think I’d like to say that this poem is curious to me. It mystifies me. I am five different people in this poem, standing in five different places. I’m refracted and multiplied. Some of me is even absent. If I had my way, I’d be the door.” (website)