By Mark Belair

The night she buried
her husband—

they were both thirty-three—

took his twin brother
to bed in a crazed, ghoulish

attempt to allay
her desolating grief.

Three years later, she lay dying
of ovarian cancer.

“Just punishment,” she said, unjustly,
“For what I did that night.”

Then she crossed and clenched,
beneath the hospital sheets,

her once
beautiful legs.


Just off a tour of duty in Vietnam, Billy took a job loading
information—the numbing name and address labels that

drove a local distribution company—
into its new, room-sized computer.

Not yet drafted for the War but waiting for notice,
I held the job of hauling file card drawers to Billy

then, once he’d punched them in, returning them
to the slotted cabinets that became their mausoleums.

The computer was sealed in its own plate-glass room,
those early models famously temperamental.

At lunch in the cafeteria, Billy told stories of how a
mere speck of dust, dead fly, or badly timed sneeze

had gummed-up some state-of-the-art but
fragile computer he once knew.

He never talked about Vietnam, despite my worried questions.
Just said that it was okay.

Except for the stink of jungle mud, which he said would
hang on his uniform, infiltrate his pack, cling to his hair.

Sometimes, he once confided, he could still
smell it on his skin.

Then he stood up, wiped the crumbs away, washed
his hands, brushed his teeth, splashed his face and—

Snapping latex gloves and a surgical mask on—
returned to the dry, odorless, temperature

controlled room that held
room for one.


Red, at nine, didn’t know
until his hands knew

then he knew
how the machinery worked,

why a job of carpentry fit,
what each tangled electrical wire did.

His hands were quick, inquisitive, appreciative
of a complexity

he could never have spoken
or written of.

Our teachers, back then, said he was dumb
and Red, folding his hands on his desk

as ordered,
believed them.




Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Atlanta Review, The Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry East and The South Carolina Review. His latest collection is Watching Ourselves (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Previous collections include Breathing Room (Aldrich Press, 2015); Night Watch (Finishing Line Press, 2013); While We’re Waiting (Aldrich Press, 2013); and Walk With Me (Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2012). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times. Please visit www.markbelair.com

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