Boy Goes to War

His father told him never start writing
or reading in the middle of a book.

There’s a title, don’t go on without one.
And he didn’t go on without one — he had the title Private.

This was life’s taproot — the obedient
boy began always at the beginning.

Books start out with what the boy calls Beauty
— the boat’s still in port. The cat’s alive. Pantry’s packed.

Even present tense has some of the grace of past tense,
what with all the present tense left to go.

Usually, by the first page or second,
a relationship emerges between text and title.

Some of the words blur on the page
and the key ones glow,

as does the title, and a fat red arrow
with two heads connects them. Yum.

It was like owning something. The way
when he paid for a fine hat and put it on,

he felt a circuit through the rim and top
and sides, swilling gray hat blood.

And he felt like his heart controlled this circuit
remotely, via microchip.

If a book could not service him with this truth,
which was all the pleasure in the world,

he would usually stop reading.
He saw the end of very few books anyway — 

who needs two climaxes? After that intense sensation
the book always changed. It was like looking

at a plate of food he’d half-eaten
and had rendered him bloated and nauseous.

Now he is on marches. Now his gun
makes a nest in his arm crook

with nasty red welts for straw.
Now his rear leaks smelly water all day.

His whole life he has balanced himself
on an absurdly slender proscenium

and as he continues to edge out
he can’t tell if it isn’t maybe a gangplank.

He doesn’t like the switch-up.
What’s out there? he wonders, in what he’ll call ocean for now.

To his right is an alligator. But the head-ridge has no bone.
It’s propped up instead by fumes: rich, dark, and pungent.

Far off, men are cradling cracked dolphins.
Arrows of fire shoot out the blowholes. The wounds bleed silver.

Perhaps they are connecting to a title in the sky.
But he’s not seeing any of these things.

The world is mostly brown and black,
and smells like a rotting fridge.

What is it? What is it? Is it a hand?
Is it an eye? Is it a hat? It is time.