When we marched into Berlin, the smell of rotting rain,
like sauerkraut and wool; and then a stray dog, thin train-
rail and rusty barbwire, trotted toward us because it needed
food or a pat, something. It never came all the way to us though.
It would stop a foot short then run loops away--to come back,
close but never touching --- my first wife was like that.
In Berlin, me and another guy walked into the
There, I found a fiddle in a cheap cardboard case and thought
of Grandpa John in the Ozarks. He'd sit on the back porch, and play
his fiddle in the spring. When asked what he was playing, he'd say
the apples on the apple tree --- if I waited they'd come out soon
and he was playing the sun up for tomorrow and a good tobacco crop
too. I believed him until mom told me one night that Grandpa, my
father, tried to get her into bed. Afterwards, I thought he played
rotten and the corn black and the sun down
When the war is over, they ship us out. Others
have their souvenirs:
Nazi flags, gold swastikas, a few with human ears. I take back this
couple's second rate fiddle; it is something beautiful to counter
souvenir of my memories, my knowledge that I killed men after I
I never could, my knowledge that it is surprisingly easy to kill a
man and easier
and easier and you grow organs you never had before --- fingers that
against and pop the Adamís apples of men in midafternoon summer
and then roll a home-made cigarette, half corn-silk and put it
between your lips,
and later, later, run across the warm soft hollow of a woman's inner
Now, it's night in Kentucky which means deer
running through the yard,
and somebody's kids yelling as they push a broken-down Packard up
I'm sitting on my back porch, thinking of Berlin and Grandpa and why
couple hung on to this fiddle. I draw the bow --- it runs toward and
the strings like a thin dog that needs something.
Savage at a Cocktail Party
I was born too aggressive, with an ax and a
full-set of teeth. But since then Iíve taken up tai chi and I refuse
red meat. I have mastered bio-feedback, shutting my eyes and
counting to ten, throttling a sponge-like ball that says LIFE in big
blue letters. When my bloodlust gets really bad, I chop trees.
At the Ryanís party, the urge gets really bad. I
am smiling at the limp noodle conversation and wishing for a big
seal club. I excuse myself and go to an empty room bristling with
watercolors of our hostess naked. Gazing out the window, I admire
the war green of their holly trees, berries like the entry-holes of
arrows. I do not want my friends to know I am biting my fingers. Is
it possible to scream without letting on that I am? A song perhaps?
I donít know any song past the first couple of
misstated lines. I walk to the buffet table, greedily eye the
autopsied chicken and julienned vegetables. Itís all too much. I
creep to the fuse box and turn out the lights. An intruder! I shout,
and then begin screaming and throwing food.
My friends bleat like sheep and stampede out of
the darkened room. I throw elbows left and right, get in some good
solid rabbit punches, and as well bite someoneís forearm. Then
theyíre gone and itís only me. While I beat myself up, I think of
craggy hills and burning oak.
Finally, I emerge into the lightened room where my
friends are waiting.
"Heís gone," I tell them.
By day, John Branseum is employed as a stock analyst and
university writing consultant. By night, he writes, weightlifts to
heavy metal music, argues with God, and sneaks food to Cynthia
Arrieu King's dog, Shelby. He has published work in or has work
appearing in a number of venues, including Third Bed, The
North American Review and the Micro2 Anthology.