Lizard Whiskey: a Parting Gift from Viet Nam from Issue 48
After the meal is done, your son draws it out
of the cool space under the kitchen counter.
When the jar is lifted free of the darkness,
the whiskey’s tincture swarms with scales and flakes of skin
like a glittery storm in one of those Christmas snowglobes.
The lizard’s been in there for years, gutted, giant,
doubled over himself in the quart-sized mason jar,
a smile on his wizened face, his eyes
almost rotted away; he is giving and giving himself over
to the swirling and the darkness he’s become a part of.
When the jar is tipped, a little of the whiskey
leaks onto the boy’s hand, the stench of it
permeating the room, so foul
we draw back from him as we once drew back
from ourselves in the long years of that war.
He wants to draw back too, but his hands
cradle the jar, the captive creature there,
and he does not kte go his hold of it until he rights it finally
in a way that we haven’t quite righted anything.
I look from his hands then to yoursㅡthin, long-fingered,
elegant almost as a woman’sㅡand I have to remind myself
hands that turned a machine gun over a green country.
I look also at my hands which held the wounded of that time
and let some of them go, though I cannot say that
they have loosed their hold on me…
What kept him intact so long, this creature:
The darkness? The fetid waters around him?
And what keeps us, despite ourselves, two creatures
curled and fetal inside that long-done war,
words falling from us like a storm?