Christopher Munde

Ordinance

     
   

I’m afraid of what replaces our certainty:

Need, weaponized.  I’m most afraid for and

Of a boy waking to his own dark room: 

 

I took my then-fiancée to meet my father

One Christmas Eve in Manhattan, snow

Ashing down at eleven P.M. and the sky

Cast pink through all those prisms drifting. 

He wasn’t at his guard post in the lobby,

Didn’t answer to his name, and not even

When LJ’s purse set off the metal detector. 

 

In a dark auditorium we found him, alone,

Front row, playing some Western

On his portable DVD player.  He bragged

That he now had five jobs, but tomorrow

He’d have four, and we agreed it was bad

Out there.  Wasn’t he, I began, to enforce

Some security ordinance for this complex?

In fact, they were, he told me, in his hands,

And that my mother wanted kitchen-bigger-

Bedroom-different (ghosts, he meant,

Instead of gods), another ten thousand,

A looming dearth of gunfighters to pull him,

Like the gunslinger’s coffin, through the hours.

 

On his screen, the picture was glitched

Into stasis:  As I recall it now, the cowboy

Turned, frozen, gun aimed at swarming

Pixels in the corner.   But that was his job,

He continued, with all the terrorist bomb threats,

Come Christmas, they all relied on him. I wondered

Why anyone’d give their life to drop this building,

And Prime target, he said.  They could take out tons

Of people businesses, big rich things—

To make their God happy; for rewards,

The bedroom different every night; could I imagine

Being that certain?  So, he was not afraid of Grace.

 

So we talked, the cowboy beginning to crystallize

In the corner of my eye, and it was then

That I remembered the last time I’d seen

Anything like it: The summer night upstate

   At my uncle’s lake house where the fog

   Tumbled slowly at the water’s edge, and up

   The porch steps into the kitchen, sometimes

   Across our bodies, the night when we’d lured

   My seven-year-old cousin to the little dock, bug lights

   Batting their lashes above us and when the fog came

   My father and I rasped Ghosts! at the boy, who ran

   Screaming inside and curled up beside the stove

   Whimpering I thought it’s terrorists, and we laughed

   Because what came crawling in, we assured him,

   Were the dead.

 

Outside, the blasts

Of colder air across the lips

Of windows,

           Dumb

Lowing of plows

 

   Of course, the boy had never actually seen

   Mustard gas or the gas they used to kill the dog

   A thousand times On TV, when they said this agent…

   Some viewers might want to turn away now… This

   Taliban agent causes the dog to die a slow, agonizing death,

   And then killed him again because suddenly it was agonizing

   And slow,

        But here hunched Grace; here, in droning

Snow:  When I told this story to my wife-to-be, my father

Shifted in his seat, as though he was the boy and I

Had exposed some old innocence; his mild voice

Drifted, fingers tapped the screen.  Its grainy white

Crowned his bent form as we sat, captive before him.

 

The metal detector sounded again when we left the lobby, empty,

For a near-aftermath of pink guttering shoe paths, our steps

Forcing slush in thin concrete fissures.  

  In the city, it is often hard

To tell a holiday’s voice apart from the hum of high voltage revelry.

 

All those times he had hummed me back to sleep, there was no doubt

In my mind.  Was it always the sound of hordes buzzing in the distance,

Whispered in one’s ear, as through a conch, of this smoldering

That precedes every bomb?

 

     
        return to poetry
 

Christopher Munde's poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, The Hollins Critic, Hunger Mountain, Massachusetts Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere.  He completed his MFA at the University of Houston in 2008 and received an Academy of American Poets Prize in the same year.  Presently, he lives in western New York, where he teaches at Jamestown Community College.