For hours we swung in the dark,
hearing firecrackers mark the occasion.

Somewhere, your ride
honked her horn.
Your feet splashed puddles
when you anchored them to stop the swing.

If I could have read our future
as some message folded
in our scattered beer bottles,
I would have parted with a handshake.


for Michael Smith

We couldn’t even shotgun Miller Lite.
Even when we cleanly punctured the can,
the diluted beverage sprayed out foam
and spoiled our loose leafed poetry
manuscripts on the patio table.

That morning,
every time Michael
brushed his grandfather’s tombstone off
“out of reverence and respect” he said,
a leaf descended from overhanging cedar boughs.

He told me what his mother said to him:
“you smoke and drink whiskey
just like your grandfather would
during a thunderstorm.”

“I know you never met your grandfather,
but you would have been the best of friends.
If you two went out drinking,
you wouldn’t come home until the sun came up.”

But when the sun retreats, so does Michael,
who doesn’t walk to bars alone,
a suspicious face on every passerby
and tan lines where his rings once were.

It began to pour.
Raindrops rattled on a neighbor’s tin-roof shed.
He chain smoked dead drunk
on his patio until the thunderstorm died down.


Your opera career in photographs.
A choir. Which of them was you?
Perhaps it was your cropped pearl hair
that shed its color early.
You never dyed it.
And your neck.
Your taut singer’s neck strained for the audience,
your children, my breastfed self–
then I put it back.

The teapot whistled
from your tacky, jaundiced
hutch of a kitchen.
You commanded me to bring Earl Grey
and mistook my name,
a sour odor seeping where you sat
with your legs propped on the velvet recliner.

I could hardly believe how irritated I felt.

You had been doing so well with names and faces,
memories now an etch-a-sketch portrait
shaken by a child with some muscle wasting disease.

You always said that Grandpa
was “difficult” and “crazy.”
Either walking his Rottweiler too often
or picking extra shifts up as a janitor at Wal-Mart,
so he could “get away from you.”

If that was his reason, I can’t blame him.
I’m filled with nothing but shame for writing it,
but I couldn’t tell you. You’d just forget.


The sign is pocked with bullet holes.

My grandfather would shoot
the highway signs of backcountry Virginia,
prone in the pickup bed
of the rusted Ford Ranchero
he planned to will to me.
He was testing if he was still accustomed
to recoil, muzzle flash, and gunpowder smell.

I do not know much
about the Korean War,
except that he received a terse prosaic
from the Draft Board notifying him
that he would have to leave his farm life:
his pond with trout and fattened catfish,
the mooing of his cows with swollen udders.

It took sixteen days
to travel to the country
nicknamed “land of mornings calm.”
His farmer friends are still there,
their bodies unrecovered,
themselves now fertilizer for the soil.

Whenever my grandfather gets a chill,
he swears their souls are trying to seize his attention.
The sign lays tire-printed as a testament
to those who did not heed its warning,
slow down, slow down, slow down.

Domenic Scopa is the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He is a student of Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he studies Poetry and Translation. He has worked closely with a number of accomplished poets including National Book Award Winner David Ferry and Washington Book Prize recipient Fred Marchant. His poetry has been featured in Misfit Magazine, Poetry Pacific, Untitled with Passengers, Gravel, Crack the Spine, Stone Highway Review, Apeiron Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Literature Today, and Tell Us a Story.