Monday, April 13, 2015

Victor Henry- Three Poems

It is the summer of 1950 and Montana swelters.  I'm going to my grandma's house in Cascade for the afternoon.  Grandpa is working at the Mountain Palace Tavern, a roadside bar they own on a site next to the Missouri River.  Dad, the designated driver, drops me off.  For most of the morning, grandma's been playing solitaire, her favorite card game.  Immediately after I arrive, she gets me a glass of refrigerated milk and a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  Almost as if on cue, I pull up my shirt.  Then she tenderly rubs and scratches my back, for what seems like hours.  Is this what heaven feels like? I ask.  Grandma's touch is delicate like love in its infantile stages.  She moves her hands slowly and lightly up and down and I can feel a tingling sensation, feel myself coming out of my skin, feel myself hearing the muted murmur of a five-year-old boy in ecstasy. Now years later, I realize grandma taught me that sensitivity takes many forms, that touching another person lovingly is one of the most compassionate ways to communicate.  And when grandma hugged me, she held me like I was her own son.  From her I learned the sensual art of touching.  From her I learned about affection, tenderness and love. 

All of Paris anxiously await Madame Tolave's daughters to wed.  They are prizes, catches of the day: beautiful, educated, wealthy, refined.  It is no secret that suitors from as far as Australia and Argentina have bid for their hands.  Today though, as if the whole world has been invited along to accompany them, the daughters play the ponies at the racetrack, betting father's francs on tips from their favorite bookie.  To honor the crowd, they attend the ceremonies at the Winner's Circle.  Cameras flash in unison as each daughter poses with the winning jockey, kissing him on the cheek.  Everyone roars in approval.  For the winners who bet on the long shot, the seventh race is their Shangri-La.  A 33 to 1 outsider wins by a nose.  Madame Tolave's daughters, however, lose enough of papa's money on this race alone to pay the staff at each of their chateaus for the next year and a half.  To these three beautiful women living outside the rules of the game mother has invented, they will attend the opera tonight, descend gracefully from the Grand Staircase with all eyes focused on them, and venture elegantly out into The City, the cradle of Paris, to the underworld where the great masked ball continues.  

That spring in 68, he was wounded
in the leg during the Tet Offensive,
severing an artery,
almost died.  
Thirty-three years later,
he walks with a cane,
suffers flashbacks, nightmares.
Now, a week after the September 11th attack,
he walks his dog in Lower Manhattan.
An enraged assailant confronts him.
Claims he’s a patriot.
Stabs him repeatedly in the hands and arms,
yells “Yah fuckin’ raghead. You’re goin’ to Allah.”
Months later, his wounds healing slowly,
the new war brought violently home to him,
he walks his old friend again in the early evening,
carries a Colt .45, extra clips,
his anger hot, his hatred
as strong as a undetonated bomb in his heart.
Victor Henry's work has appeared in Dead Snakes, various anthologies, and small press magazines.

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