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John E. Branseum

Thin Dogs

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 Warsaw Ghetto.
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's
father, tried to get her into bed. Afterwards, I thought he played the apples
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 old Jewish
couple's second rate fiddle; it is something beautiful to counter the gruesome
souvenir of my memories, my knowledge that I killed men after I swore that
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 can press
against and pop the Adamís apples of men in midafternoon summer cicada sounds
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 thighs.

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 the road.
I'm sitting on my back porch, thinking of Berlin and Grandpa and why the Jewish
couple hung on to this fiddle. I draw the bow --- it runs toward and away from
the strings like a thin dog that needs something.

John E. Branseum

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.  

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