Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Luck Left Over for Those Who Lose Games of Russian Roulette

In a burst of the kind of youthful invincibility that I feel
a little robbed of for never having experienced myself,
my great-grandfather once put a bullet two centimeters
into his skull in a drunken game of Russian roulette

which I am told is what teenagers did back then at
German boarding schools. So anyway he put the bullet
two centimeters deep and survived by the kind of luck
left over for those who lose games of Russian roulette

and so he spent the rest of his life knowing that any fall or
solid smack could jolt it into the soft tissue of his brain
and remove him from this world in one sense or another,
yet somehow still lived as normal a life as a man could,

knowing that all memory of his children or his wife might
be wiped out by the stray china thrown in one of her famous
tantrums and no one who remembers him remembers him
doing anything other than smiling sweetly, except maybe

apologizing for the damage done by his wife to the walls and
the windows and the feelings of kids and neighbors, but in
all photos he mugs only sobering sternness which I am told
is just what Germans did in photos back then but I am starting

to doubt the things I am told. There are holes in these stories
a couple centimeters deep and I am beginning to notice
that lodged in each of them is a bullet that got there because
every story thinks itself invincible in its own way and

each bullet followed my great-grandfather’s across the Atlantic
to this place called New York and watched daily as he smiled
sweetly and whispered nonsensical German whimsy to his
wife who was sweet when she wasn’t angry and each story

bears children as stories do and the children of these stories
sternly tell their own children not to roughhouse around
their grandparents for fear they might disappear like I worry
sometimes that you might if I get rowdy and so together we

politely ignore the holes and know better than to prod at the
things we are told and at the things that we love. And so
here I am telling you that tonight this invincible poem gets
drunk with its friends and gets drunk with their revolver.

And the whiskey says something wonderful and the gun
says something playful under its breath and the bullet
says something that came out louder than it intended and
the friends say something terrifying and in German which is

probably redundant and now this poem has a hole in it and
the hole says you are very unlucky and the doctors say
you are very lucky and for the first time in its life, this poem
smiles sweetly and remembers it has something to tell you.  

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