My brother, home from Afghanistan, spends hours in our parents’ basement
playing a World War II video game—first-person shooter style wrists and hands
of an anonymous white American and the hypnotizing black barrel of a gun.
He holds the controller low, bare feet against the wooden coffee table,
his back curled into the worn end of the sofa where for years our father
slept, sat, ate, watched T.V., hollered at us to quiet down when we fought.
He sips a sweet cocktail, and our mother is eager to feed him whatever he wants.
That’s the subject on her mind as she leans over the banister and yells down
What do you want for dinner, Mike?—but he’s gone, his eyes like ice,
his jaw hanging loose and his tongue drying against the inside of his cheek.
He’s in the zone: piles of Nazis, stacks of Nazis, the papers will sing his name,
and I wait until all the shots are fired before I say Hey Mom’s yelling for you
Hey man don’t you hear her Hey what do you want to eat Hey where are you.
He turns toward me slowly, his brows wrinkled, and says nothing, like he needs
a moment to recognize me, like he can’t remember where the hell he is,
then I watch as his mind arrives, touches down on worn earth,
he says Can you repeat that. And I do, and a sniper off-screen takes aim, filling
the chest of that electronic American boy with burnt and spiraling bullets.
He says Don’t know Whatever we’ve got is fine It’s probably better that way.
The game’s over, it resets, says Press Here To Begin, but he doesn’t Press There.
He downs his cocktail, turns off the console. We sit in chilled basement silence.
At 3 a.m., I wake to him screaming through a nightmare he will claim he never had.
—from Rattle #35, Summer 2011