George Kovach

House to House

He keeps a snapshot of his wife and daughter
in his shoulder pocket, so it’s easy
to find them.  At night the desert air is cold.

His fingertips feel the bent corners, the surface
where their faces have been touched
and touched.  It’s time.  He puts them back

and snaps the chin strap.  Feral dogs bark
as his men rush the alley, smash a metal
gate, a door and aim into the darkness.

No power, no light, not a candle lit
to blind them.  In green luminescence
he sees three shapes huddled in a corner,

dark eyes like empty lacquered cups, a woman,
a girl, a boy, speechless in their own home.
How many are here? Show me—

He’s learned the words for show me
the room where you sleep with your husband,
the room where you cook and eat, the room

where you talk with friends, your children’s room,
the steps to the roof, the garden, the cistern, the well.
He can say, Where is he? Where is your husband?

Three hundred hours

His taut body turns in her bed,
twists the sheets tighter, shudders
but doesn’t wake . . . he’s hugging the ground,

hears the same reptilian crawl
where the wet reeds open, then close
like lungs filling with blood;

now he’s walking the mud-rutted road
slick with rubber-soled prints, pocked
with pools of oily sky,

leading to the same intersection
of what he’s lost and what he can’t find,
the same corpse stretched out in a ditch,

half its flypaper face still gaping,
still missing an ear; no one buries it;
he always wants to; he never does,

always blinded by a white-phosphorous
sun parachuting into green shadows
of banyan trees; it gutters and snuffs,

the garlic smell thickening his sweat
as he searches in the dark for another
way out, with only the same road back . . .

She can’t sleep with the moans but knows
he’ll strike back if she touches his shoulder
or whispers his name.  She hears teeth grinding.

The Page Is Empty

because he can’t remember the eyes—
if they were closed,
or like silt-black mirrors fixed
on a cumulus sky, clouds
dragging shadows from a dark river.

He’s uncertain, so he leaves out
the glottal stop of a lung
pulling air through the folds
of a fresh tear; leaves out the snap-
shot-silence of the others, prone
in rank water, transfixed

by a wall  of patient reeds (the missing
sound’s the soft sweep of reeds);

and since he can’t see
the half-submerged archipelago
of a body, he never crawls
to it, never remembers feeling

warm mud tongue his fingers,
and with a moist mouth quickly swallow
his wrists.  Because he’s tried to recall
the rifled staccato of seconds,
muddled minutes,
hours somehow survived,

time ruptures, years leak
from holding tanks
into history’s drain.

George Kovach

George Kovach is a poet and the founding editor and publisher of CONSEQUENCE, the international literary journal addressing the culture and consequences of war through literature and the arts.  He directs a series of writing workshops at the Vet Center in Brockton, Massachusetts, for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. A highly decorated combat veteran, he served in Vietnam with the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division, 1969-70.