Bull-necked and Glass-jawed after Saigon
    Walt McDonald
I sweep chips from the hearth and dump them,
pick marbles from lint on the kitchen floor,
leave nothing a toddler could choke on.

I'm sloppy, naturally random,
the least compulsive husband I know.
I leave the sink stacked high

when my wife's away. After Saigon,
I slip a twenty to a bum who might
have served. If he drops it, I creak down

and hand it up as if it's his. I try
not to bawl at Christmas and birthdays,
packing gift wrappings in closets,

snapping pictures I know will fade
like spent casings, granddaughters hugging us,
grandsons making horns on a toddler's head.

The Town's Last Beauty Pageant

    Walt McDonald
Wads of tissue turned my sister into a miss
at fifteen, the town's first beauty pageant
at the high school gym. Wives of cowboys

and radio deejays judged, a jury pool.
High in the bleachers, Earl and I squirmed,
stomping our boots for swimsuits,

one-piece like blonde Betty Grable's,
stitched with taffeta, tight as elastic.
Earl said my sister would win, though his

plump cousin had curves soldiers would die for.
I tugged at binoculars, my turn, but Earl
held the strap wrapped twice around his neck,

didn't care if I hanged him, teenagers
parading around the platform and waving.
The town of hundreds cheered like touchdowns

in last year's playoff, district champs
before Pearl Harbor. Now, all from that team
were overseas, the ones not dead.

Most girls married sailors or soldiers
when the war was over, even my sister
in a sun dress at twenty, her husband

the biggest one-armed soldier I'd ever seen,
one sleeve tucked back at the shoulder,
his right arm holding their baby on his lap.

Walt McDonald was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and served as Texas Poet Laureate for 2001. Some of his recent books are All Occasions (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), Blessings the Body Gave, and The Flying Dutchman (Ohio State, 1998, 1986), Counting Survivors (Pittsburgh, 1995), Night Landings (Harper & Row, 1989), and After the Noise of Saigon (Massachusetts, 1988). His poems have been in journals including APR, The Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, and Poetry.


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