Alan was his real name, Alan
and not Al because he never
got familiar with people.
Hell, he hardly ever got outside
except to mow the lawn around
the house his parents left him,
and he didn’t have a job to go to,
disability or something.
He didn’t get called Pop for being around kids—
there wasn’t even a woman in the picture—
but from how he spooked and started
whenever a muffler backfired,
a bottle broke, that kind of thing.
Us kids had it worked out to a system
popping balloons and blown-up paper bags,
smacking paper caps with a hammer
and setting off M-80s
when somebody had been to Mississippi.
Pop never made any noise himself,
didn’t look around, just dropped everything
and double-timed inside, left the mower running
and one time some bags of groceries.
After a couple of days you could
pick up on the stink from the next block.
When Bobby got his license he screwed the top back on
a big plastic Mountain Dew bottle he’d finished up
and set it in the street right in front of Pop’s house.
Then he waited. Tuesday was mowing day.
As soon as old Pop got into the yard, Bobby gunned
his old man’s F-150 right over that bottle.
Bang scared me for a second
and damn near busted my eardrums.
“Pissed his pants,” Bobby said, “Think
I even saw a little brown.”
After that the grass got pretty long
until the city issued a citation.
Only a lot of years after Pop
hanged himself in the backyard
did anybody find out
what his story was.
He’d gotten stuck behind the lines
after a retreat in Da Nang.
A week later they took the ground back
and found him with maggoty wounds
and a shattered leg, hallucinating from dengue fever
and clutching what was left
of the buddy who’d shielded him,
and he rambled about making sure
the guy got a decent burial.
They had to fight to make him
let go of an arm that was mostly bone.
That reached back in time and took
all the fun out of the noise we’d made.
Now we’re left with just guilt.
It’s like carrying around the weight and smell
of a corpse that doesn’t break down
but just keeps rotting somehow
but we have to keep carrying it,
and there’s no one to give it up to.
J.D. Smith‘s fourth collection, The Killing Tree, was published in 2016. He is currently seeking publishers for two collections of poetry, two collections of fiction and a children’s picture book. Smith works in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife and their rescue animals. More information is available at www.jdsmithwriter.com.