There was a map of Vietnam

above the television set, and mother

said it's a war all right. We

watched it over dinner, keeping

track of it all as best we could.

Then as Dad read

the evening paper he'd say

long day. It's been a long day.

We'd wash all the ordinary things

after supper, put away the potatoes

and extra pork chops. Robert

would snap at me with a dishtowel

so I'd cry and he could get away.

Mother made him stay. You

do your duty, she said.

No matter what. You were raised

that way and don't forget.

Later, during cop shows

and homework and more dessert

we would listen to Dad snore

in his chair. Mother held on

to his hand. He's a good man,

she said. Your father.

When he couldn't breathe,

and I was back from college

for the summer and Robert

was away, Mother didn't say

anything. We watched

the sky turn dark and light again

and we put on masks

when we went in to see him,

and we washed everything

the nurses were afraid of.

I guess we'll be all right,

Dad said, when he'd fought it off.

The doctors, amazed, wrote him

up for possible future

strategic maneuvers.

They studied him like a map.

Then when mother

got cancer, and I was away,

Robert stayed, doing the dishes

and rearranging the cupboards

while he kept an eye on Dad.

After the plateware,

Robert filed the soup

and the crackers

in neat rows for reference

in ascending order of taste.

He said, when I called

frantic from Kansas

after the third surgery:

It's like a war I guess,

but as long as we keep

track of each other

and calm,

we'll be all right.

He said:

The two of us learned

early, you know, to do that.


“MAP” published in River City, literary magazine of Memphis State University, volume 10.2, Spring 1990, page 82

 “MAP” anthologized in Desert Wood: An Anthology of Nevada Poets, edited by Shaun T. Griffin, University of Nevada Press, 1991, pages 237- 241