Nuclear Family: A War Poem

~ for my grandfather, still soldiering on, as he says,
 "at the young age of ninety-five"

[***this is a very rough draft, clunky, work in progress at the moment; way too long; and the stories get lost somehow; but I'm not exactly sure where to make the cuts, or whom the piece is really about anymore -- it's too complicated for its own good, but here it will stay as I ultimately revise, drastically cut the wordiness, and figure it out***]

When Gramma plunged kamikaze-like half-a-century ago
And her pristine parlor, and then her bungalow entire
Listed lethally from the profound impact unending
No one saw the mushroom clouds who felt the fallout
Her daughters were too young
Her husband on a gunship

Was it Hitler or Hirohito who lit her fuse?
Evening ignition of shakes and quakes
"Wake up girls!" as candle wax pooled on her trembling palm
"Can't you see all the snakes hissing up the walls!
It's awful!"
Candlelight pranced upon once tranquil expressions
Every night in this now single story house
Undergone some reptilian renovations
Window dressings of shedded skins
"Can't you see them?!"
Forked tongue mirrors reflecting moulting and fangs
The endless slitherings and cold blooded quiverings
The hammer indentations pocked all over the hard wood floors

The War abroad ended and the sensitive soldier returned home
No matter what he'd seen overseas
Whether hand to hand
Or with his steadfast companion carbine
He'd never witnessed human carnage like this:
His wife one night grasped a butcher knife in her fist
Her free arm roped like twine
Same kind they'd wrap sticks of dynamite with
Around her daughters necks
Her daughters gasping "Daddy Daddy!"
Whenever they could choke out a shrill and raspy breath

Hadn't he already fought through enough blood and death?
What was his wife doing to their kids
Clutching their girls tight
Shouting "don't close your eyes!"
And taking that knife and sawing her mind in two?
Who the hell knew?

Stitched up months later, bandaged
Scrubbed clean and transfused
The white suits who'd hosed her off with shots
and shocks
and pills
After much intense and clinical scrutiny
Got careless
Meanwhile, Gramma sensed, see
Her exit opportunity
The Holy Spirit whispered she swore
Run Ruthie run when I tell you
And directed the way as if by plague
When that righteous commandment came ...

Pretending catatonia one overcast day
When the psych-techs switched shifts
The stupid shits my grandfather later fumed
Yukking it up with their incoming colleagues
Gramma ... out of the locked but unguarded corridors


Like Enola Gay high up over Hiroshima that day
Rode the bus home from the hospital still ablaze
And set her family on fire 
Who cried as they fried
But never complained

Come Christmas
You could witness generations of charred flesh smoldering
Scarves come off and the third-degree scars start to speak
But the only words out are how everybody's so starved for food
My doesn't the stuffing smell good!
Salivating while Aunt Greta's redundantly relating how Grampa
Her Dad, took forever
To carve the goddamn turkey!
And was that poor bird ever roasted just right?
Never if you listened to Greta
And eyes would glance down or dart around
When she opened her mouth
Searching for safe emergency landing amidst the annual season's spectacle
Chatter of secret recipes and special ingredients ensued
But not poor Aunt Greta in her mushroom clouded moods
Forever fearful she'd come of age overcooked like her mother
Like Gramma like daughter eyeballing cornucopia
Of delusional and hallucinogenic things:
The stoic image, to see her, of the woman she soon became
Corroborated by the wall-sized all smiles family portrait
Florid work of art above the mahogany carved mantel
Directly opposite the extended dining table

Lost an eye
Aunt Greta did
At twenty-two with her Dad's .22
That first time she tried eluding Gramma's backfiring genetic code
And cracked open her haunted coop with a single trigger's blow
Her glass eye glinted in every photograph she rarely smiled in
"Why does her right eye sparkle like that in the pictures, Mom?"
"Just because it does so, Son"
She recalled that day daily, my Mom
The day she cried "Daddy Daddy!" with her sister
And shudders thinking about that knife
And wonders

Aunt Greta
Burned bone deep by Gramma
Every nerve perversely exposed at our nuclear family gatherings
Conflagrations of awkward indignations erupted
Every not very merry Christmas
So prone
Husk of a nuclear ghost
Mad Aunt Greta
To abruptly and bluntly and out of any conversation's context
Stand and point above the crackling fireplace at the happy family portrait

--Was she casting spells placating her hells?
Or in deep disturbing dialogue with her family up there profiled?--

And proclaimed with that look and a certain inciting sigh
Though nobody heeded her except the children
The curious grandkids who'd gawk at their odd Aunt Greta
Every time she'd rise and point and accusingly declare
"That's a picture there tells a thousand lies!"