b e n j a m i n     b u c h h o l z

Unpacking Sonny

 

1.


kitchen, plain white crockery, country style, grout laid and leavened in gritty lines long ago, now graying, wheat-colored tile with rosehip patterns repeating at random, the genteel backyard slope toward river, oxbow out the window, above the sink, some dried peppers on a string, a recipe scribbled and erased, though imperfectly, from the window ledge in a fit of absentmindedness talking on the phone to a friend, when was that?, an old aunt, the cursive Ďeí all that remains, passed over by eraser and paintbrush both, lacquered but looking unveiled as if it were emerging rather than receding from the brushstroke,


kitchen, boxes color-coded, coincidental with the grout and tile and leaves tawny on the slope of the lawn, tumbling and leaping into such a quiet inside the house, here, upslope, some leaves, tougher, soaked golden, clinging like accents in the wind to relieve brown, gray, box-fiber mornings of their indigestion, newsprint ink rubbing from this-end-up, fragile, first-class indices of movement, displacement, storage, duct tape, magic marker, peeled back like a scab from the seam, curling dust-laden translucent scotch, sticking to hands, between fingers, the stuff,


kitchen, green mostly, out now in files, ranks, when empty fold it up, stomp it, meant for the fire on the riverbank since the day it was made, there in the reeds where it will not spread out of control, smolder in the damp, later tonight, all of it, actually, out in files, ranks, out onto the riverbank bit by bit, a list, hooded parka fleece-lined, folded, never unfolded, who would have had use for it in the desert?, Vietnam-era but on his hand-receipt so it went, clean still, that, and silk underwear, newer invention, black, ninja longjohns left in a wad, well-worn, two sets, slippery, compass, lensatic, mutely radioactive, glowing in its case and pointing east where it has been locked, bedsheets, could have been thrown away, washed at least by someone caring, and a Spongebob comforter, it was all he could get in time, youth, when the temperatures dropped and everyone, en masse, raided the PX, black watch-cap, woolen, neck gator pilled from rubbing on a cold-weather throat, unshaven, leather gloves for the heat and the surprise, skin would peel, stick to metal in the sun, touching accidentally a .50cal barrel when it had been test-fired at who knows what, dogs, thatched shack in the tomato field, a scarecrow, shadow, remembered on the Mekong riverboat, in manufacture from then until today, this weapon, stalwart, warm, for the gloves to protect it, gun barrel, sewing kit, threaded with OD green, theyíre gray and sand-colored now so it was not used for a spell, needle glinting like an accent among the leaves, tumbling and leaping, lord on high, such silence here in the house, it may have pricked his finger once, first learning to use it, blood and deeper in the blood DNA flooding microscopic silvered valleys, craters, crusting in them, a Martian landscape of kaleidoscope scattering, spectrum spread on the bauble, closer to the whirl between atoms, that space of nothing silent, electromagnetism at work solidifying the decay of blood on the end of a needle in a sewing kit somewhere, here, stored, shipped, encased in layer on layer, deep in the ooze, taped and protected, safe, organized,


kitchen, out of the footlocker, out of the makeshift shelves inherited from a bunkmate, made in the woodshop on base, pictures, calendar girls, Camelbak, creatine, spare change, prayer beads draped on the bedpost, gifted by a Sunni on the corner at JiffyLube, heíd been smoking, lounging at that time of day they call Sanna, the pleasant evening, worksong resounding in the fields as black-shrouded women mule home, having stopped to watch, squad on file, rank, spread between the houses, lounging with the man, walking next to him, upright, a gift to the foreigner, beads, in ranks and files on the grout now, spreading around and in-between other things, each photograph arranged facedown, flipped up to match, go-fish, no match, go-fish, match, the girl, introduced at last, her laughter in the house, perhaps recognizable in her many hairstyles smiling, waterskiing, applying prom night lipstick and eyeliner, the girlís face staring photographically absent, faded and worn at the edges, upward toward the spackled ceiling where one smudge of ketchup obscures the suburban façade,


2.


living room, Lladros encased in a glass chest, keepsakes pirouetting, six shelves, a menagerie, swans with twined necks, a child at the piano, legs and arms liquid, sinuous, insulated from the air around them, the boxes, pieces of bedframe exhumed from a storage shed, larger items all around, iced, covered in plastic sheeting to keep them from vermin, dust, Rubbermaid totes with kitchen utensils, set up house, checkered red and white potholders, a meat tenderizer, espresso machine still cushioned in bubblewrap as if precious, Lladros, still-life in porcelain with the air caught inside their hollows,


living room, grill, grill brush, mundane, raises the question of ordinary, what Achilles could, if, to burn in fame like this is really, explain to the silence, grasping, fireplace set with wood, kindling, paper, match, yet never struck, like ordinary flame, the grill, grill brush, hollow propane tank half-rusted, resounding as the knuckle raps it, testing it, who is home?, the implements, rake, spade, shovel, shears, marked with round white .50cent stickers for the rummage sale, some bride she would have been, some worth at least, these implements, impersonally packed-away, the half bag of fertilizer, rosehips at random thawing in the garden will play solitaire as the snow melts, this spring and next, in vinyl bags the best-manís tuxedo, a wetsuit, suede jacket, war, pinned with a crumpled carnation as if the wedding, for whom?, an old aunt?, passed over by eraser and paintbrush both, had been fixed to the wrong lapel, a stowed serendipity that it should be here, next to her, go-fish, swimming naked with the skin on fire, newsclippings proclaim it: seventeen minutes of fame as the hometown mourned the death by fire of a son some ordinary grill brush silence folded like a napkin, memorialized in barbeque, a match, go away, fish,


living room, rafters bared like ribs as seen from within the heart heaving no more, candle unlit above the wafting fireplace, heathen, fingers of the night creeping up over and into the curved belly of the earth, through the grasses in the valley, stroking the oxbow, probing into the plated windows, shivering massage to the chrysalis, the requiem, boxed music, a wonder of our age, for when, in the symphony halls regaling some Schubert, some throng assembled to lend throat to the Odes of Joy, all these lungs rising in union now on CD, iPOD, when were they captured?, when stored away on coiled tapes, no one even manufacturing tape-players, 8-tracks, forgotten?, from fifth grade, the first he purchased, clearance aisle at FleetFarm, using his accumulated fifth grade allowance, Johnny Cash, looking for secret messages in the liner notes, now boxed, not quite music, not quite saleable, not worth the white dot with the .50caliber confusion on it, handwritten, fired, wearing white gloves and decaying like twinkies the music remains uneaten in this box, devoured but whole, dumped now, upended, who is the girl?, spread on the shag at random, her thighs white even as the flames lap them, spread into a constellation of tape, music, notches, birth, spread into a glossing of arteries inside the heart, the room a ribcage arching above, an orgasm, shuddering, asleep, stand on the back of the couch, steady there, sturdy glass shelves with porcelain wait clutching their hollows behind, steady, stand up, blur it, the starfield of music, her hair in the picture, let it go, the constellation, the fish, a girl in tight jeans lounging within the halo of the grill brush awake, these cassettes curve like she does, outline her one-time presence, her unmistakable, earthquake scare as the sphere of heaven churns, whirls above, greater art thou encompassing the motion of a face at random in these cards, go


3.


dining room, vodka on the rocks just so that the noise of the warming, splitting ice variegates the coming dark, the shiver,


dining room, dream, for here, medals, preparations for soldiering gotten in pinewood derby, science fair, ice skating competitions, he was Winnie the Pooh, good natured star of the varsity hockey team hidden in that Pooh-suit, skating with the children when the boards around the rink had been laid aside, the last hurrah for the ice, Tigger lost her head, skated the rest of the scene smiling, she had been rose-lipped Laura laughing throughout it, bouncing on the points of her blades, headless for the kids, with Pooh holding her hand until the lights went down, then, afterward in the locker-room, she came to him without her body, a janitor sweeping popcorn from the seats, vodka cracking in the ice, a lighter blue than sunlight, warm as woolen blankets, these medals, these ribbons, this piece of piŮata, the hoof of a matadorís dare,


dining room, known through the history of love letters as blueness, their code, stuffed in paperweight, letter-opener, folded into a triangle in third grade it said: check one box, you like me, you donít like me, go fish, folded, refolded on the same seams and ready for the reedbed, the wet place on the bank of the river that has been prepared for his ashes, groomed for the reception, floating away as they burn, char, settle to the bottom downstream into a fine sediment for future limestone, like shells from ancient seas, the wind pricking, lofting small pieces that still display, in their papery windowsills, some Ďeí stubborn and charred, some half-word that could be love but isnít, wasnít, sheís not here now, not here with these boxes, some half-word tomorrow morning will fall into the hands of a farmer, lonesome on his back forty in the eagle-swift rays of morning until his breakfast bell, small and distant beyond the daybreak, hey Lucy, see here, whatís this?, an Ďeí, a lovenote, a girl spread white as flames on the dining room floor, coded into the notes he wrote to her as blueness, as vodka,


dining room remembers, the shaking of silverware in a velvet-lined drawer, donít worry, theyíve gone to Yellowstone for the summer, crazy, my parents, love to canoe, weíre alone, she came to him without her body, Tigger, in order to be forgiven, blessed, made empty of herself in the flame of what he could take, rip, those suits stowed away, cast up onto the current of air from the fire on the riverbank, blown,


dining room, it will be too difficult, letís just see, Iím only 19 and youíll be gone for what?, just a few months right away, then what?, we can get married, Iím going to school, we can get married and you can go to school and, what about the war?, I'm leaving,


dining room, what about the war?, love-notes, a box of love-notes, she came to him without her body, went to school without her body, her body is here, the ribcage in the living room living, lofting, chimney with the papery quiet, the palpitation of a fire unlit, left there long-ago, it has been two weeks now since Sonny came home, drawing out, teasing the arbor, arch, madness, the pieces of go-fish, puzzle, cardboard wrapped and regular, and here I am all alone having, naturally, to pee after this long, this long searching for the match,


4.


bathroom, unavoidable, itís become an ark, canting to its lee where it grounded on Ararat, the ribs upside down, made unchristian, I remember her name, pissing, wonít say it, holy places are dark places, chilled like the tile here, holy as long as the light is off, the seat splattered with urine, I wonít wash, not yet, wonít wash myself, my house, my cutlery, my boxes, the party is later when the burning begins, then it will be easy, gone away, to sweep the ashes clean, start again like always, start by fishing,


bathroom, incomplete solitaire darkness even when it is night, like now, the embrace of the spinning continuously shadow of the world fully flooded into the house, some light, some unforgettable blueness of her, mother if she had wanted, wife, whooping it up at school, not remembering him enough, or too much, tripping, falling to the floor, a half-hour passes until I rise, clutch at the sink, slap cold water onto my face, accidentally brush the light, clap-on, clap-off, as if an elbow couldnít do it, the flat of my palm, I do not hear, think, but open my eyes, the boxes,


bathroom, of artwork, his, these the most painful, kept here in a darkroom of bliss where I donít have to see them,


bathroom, for they live, are living, moving, mobile, taped to the ceiling, the edges of the mirror, taped to the knob that flushes the toilet, taped to the bath curtain, the towel rack, strewn on the floor, in the corners, loose paper and sketch books in ochre crayon, pen-and-ink, watercolor, one unfinished oil, pastorals, city rooftop with pigeons, he must have visited New York, people he didnít know who passed him on the street and became him without their bodies, alienated, brushstroke, the go-fish, go-fish-girl smiling around the corners of buildings, around the smokestacks on the rooftop, outlined in pigeon wings like a constellation, drawn showing her face down the aisle at Walmart, in the field of black-eyed susans, she, bright as blueness can be, on fire, sketched until the last weeks, in between missions, sketched until he stopped drawing bodies altogether, noted in the margins of his final human form that he couldnít see them the same way anymore, not without their insides open, their everywhere animal blown-wide and inhuman, like a ripe melon dropped to the pavement, how could he draw them like that?, until then, until that last cease-fire retreat from being interested in the human, until then she was everywhere, lonely as standing in the breakfast back-forty field with a bit of burnt paper that fell from the heights of the wind, she was everywhere until those last pages, those last days, she was everywhere when Sonny came home, everywhere as he was unpacked, still sketching in his books the shapes of kites and aeroplanes from those last days of bodilessness, and these I cannot burn

 

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BENJAMIN BUCHHOLZ is an Army Officer recently returned from duty in Iraq. His work has appeared widely in such places as Tarpaulin Sky, Identity Theory, Bear Deluxe and Planet Magazine. He has a non-fiction book called "Private Soldiers" forthcoming from WHS Press and a chapbook of poetic playlets called "Windshields" available through BlazeVox. For a full bibliography see www.benjaminbuchholz.com.