The Sandbox


3 a.m.
0300 Army time.
I'd been home from the war

for more than a year.
I sought
a thing or two
to do, so – the wife had left me

to weep upon her pillow – I
stepped outside. Some old cuss
across the street said he'd host poker,
no, poker, night.

He'd invited me, but I declined.

Later, inclined upon my desire to be right,
I chose to go. His offer sliced

through my mind
like hot oil through H20.
The world stood still, and time,
,devom drawk

though I knew I'd chance to
win it back.

Said Rummy was his name.
Thumb upon side, followed by
toggled my nerves for days.

    Was in the other war,
    so he said. The year four
    kids at Kent saw their final test put down.
    Sworn to defend, the Guard
    spread lead through
    the Commons,
    breaking necks
    and wounding knees.
    Oh, how protests hung unheard!

The wife had mowed the lawn the day before, trimmed our hedges, bets
rolled in as I walked inside, admired it all through the window. Across the
street I saw lights flicker, the party going on without me.

I ducked,
took a step to go. But, no. Not this time.

    A few minutes passed and I ran – ran! – to the door, caught a whiff
    of the wife's perfume as I tore at a dead reckoning over the patchwork
    of grass at my feet and stood dead center of the street. I strained
    mine eyes to steal a view of faint sketches, fragments of bodies
    moving thru the ease; the trees beckoned me, being the tease. And out
    of the corner of an eye, down the crook of my too long nose, caught
    glimpses of SUVs lining a paved drive. I'd arrived.

Rummy's full house spawned voices,
strange noises,
and I racked up the pace till I met with his porch,
ambled upon a patio lit by a solitaire sconce
and gazed like a gibbon upon a wood plank
hanging just above my head on the door;
like a law, it read:

Enter In
Be ye poor

I rapped upon the weathered door,
rapped until my knuckles nearly bled,
and just when I thought there’d be no answer,
turned to go –

    hard swing in! fast,
    I thought It
    might come un

Ah, how the mighty door swung in; be-
fore me stood a dirty blond bomb-
shell half my age,
angling in the mid-
dle of the door
frame like a portrait
eager to be hung, her fem
white locks falling,
falling like
drops of

pale shoulders strapped
with lace,
peaking over cryptic crests
like dirt roads dying in the dark;

Those eyesdos ojos

like dice
shooting boxcars
face down (pill-

owed, feathered, full, of fair form)
breasts ate like beasts,
grazed silk blouse,
as plums;
prim pair of lilies
they appeared

to be. Back: a mystery, buried
the moon, and more. My heart cracked
till I thought it spayed.

Blushing, I stepped to leave.
A whispered demand
hammered my ears
and for a moment
I felt half-cocked.

I shot a dizzy gaze at my host,
flush red as a Persian strait,
standing naked at the bar, navel
open wide as a turret, flagging me in.

Marching on. Followed pink
of tush, teddy, thong, ass.
Tomahawk tattooed to shoulder blade,
guns aimed at my knees.

Rummy fingered a bottle
of Crown Royal, his flesh
full of velvet cool,
then met me between
the kitchen and the den
at a table where sat
four stolid old men.

    An elephant lay
    in a corner
    like a tragic dragon.

In a ballistic rage of vitriol
Rummy knuckle punched
the tabletop, liquid pleasures
bounced like the barrel of a hot
machine gun. And I did all I could
not to run.

His sanguine smile made me shake like a Quaker
as he stretched out his hand for salvation.

His voice quivered as he spoke
and he growled like the demons
in the seventh level of Hell,
“Play a little five card, Stud?!”

I felt my tongue go limp,
tossed a stiff leg over the chair
at my front in an awkward straddle,
slid up and in like a man in a saddle,
leaned the depression in my hairless chest
on the concave face of the chair's
iron back.

Rummy then made his introductions:
Ace: To my right,
yellow jacket and tie,
baseball bat clasp and a Dixie
cup between the knees,
spittle dribble on the chin,
and a thin little grin.
Next: Further right,
a bearded buck
hunkered like a calm cool clam,
tattooed and freckled,
knuckles shouting aims …

Two-fingered and thumbed

Rummy choked: “Meet Jack King.”
Off center-left, a baggy-eyed old gent bent on a stogie,
smirked like a chimp.

    Man No. 4 stood broad as a door
    as he stared me square in the eye,
    Said, “I'm Joe Kerr
    and I know where
    they buried the body of Loki.”

I nearly fell
on my fractalled face,
his words rifled into my brain
and for five kindled seconds
all I could see or smell or hear
was blood fused with galloping rain.

Beside Joe Kerr sat a pistol,
a silver-barreled 9 mil,
within arms reach
and stout as a missile;
every few minutes I'd peak to see
if he might reach to cop a feel.
Plainly, he loved his steel.

    Snap! snap! snap!
    went the clappity clap
    of fingers folding into hands.
    To Rummy's side bounced the cute
    little blond, slipping her hips under his
    arms like a hilt into leather sheath. “And this,”
    he hissed, “is Bethesda, but I just call her Bet.”
    And I thought that was the best name yet.

Over his shoulder my host tossed a wild bean
at the beast slumbering there, its trunk
curled like a coil up to its lips:
He said, “Liberty there is
fair and keen
with five tons
of spunk
from tusk
to burdened hips.”

I glanced at Joe tapping his gun's oily grip
and quoting verses from the Holy Bible;
his friend Jack puffed hard on a self-
rolled smoke and sang low
in contralto distortions
the harsh letter

    Peace via Victory!

perpetual war "the sandbox" poem
And thus the party began.


Silence. Out of the momentary lapse of reason
That held me locked in, a prisoner of my own mind,
I found a nugget of gold sure to mature in due season.
They say pearls lie in wait like treasures at sea, but to find
The oyster is to pluck a feather from an owl, wisdom

Got by theft; and the pirate ship sails into the east wind.
If I speak now I will be charged with holy treason.
So I sit, wait, bide my time, ride the tidal wave bare skinned
And hope this tsunami of fear and shame leads to freedom.
I have my doubts. But I don't speak them. I've been dealt my hand.


Alone in my thoughts,
I cogitated like an old codger
on the cards upon the table,
the doctrines of St. Augustine
and Cicero warring within my mind.
The laws of Grotius filtered
through my nerves like salt
from a shaker. The kiss of eyes
formed upon the backs of the cards
I'd been dealt, lying face down and waiting
for scratch of fingers upon naked wax.

I relaxed. And studied the faces of the men
disguised as friends, picked up my cards
and lost. Then won. Then lost again.
Ten down, I plunged on.

Hard as it was to admit defeat,
I succumbed to the call of the game.
For hours I played and played some more,
lost dollars upon dollars, time upon time.
The night wore on and at the break of dawn
the heaviness dropped the lids of my eyes
as if lead-filled and bagged with weights.
But you just can't win with a hand full
of sixes and eights.

Bet returned from the kitchen with a drink.
An evening dress caressed her neck, V-shaped
crest upon her breasts, and long enough to cover the knees.
She set a glass full of crushed ice at arm's reach
then scurried off to take her place in the corner.
An artillery shell she brought to me and one
I hadn't ordered, but it only took one swallow
to kill down like a switch. And the volume
volcanoed to a fevered pitch:


When I thought my eyes would close and open nevermore,
the elephant named Liberty raised its trunk and roared.

Chained by her ankle to a bolt upon the wall,
the whole earth rattled and I watched it fall
as she cranked her hoof and pulled it like a lever.
Down came the ceiling, showered dust just like a river!

The ruckus caused a stir not unlike a daft circus;
chaos ruled beyond the law like a springtime crocus.
Rummy tilted forward, reached his hand below the table
to foist his digits upon an object, but his labile

state and surrounding cast
buffooned out of control
and from behind I heard a blast -
three kinds of colors climbed a pole

before me. I hit the floor. Gazed right; caught a glimpse
of plasma screened upon the wall,
cacophony of voices blaring through it.
Glanced left, found Rummy,
remote in sweat-oiled hand,
gripped like a weapon
aimed at my head,
I threw myself
into slow low crawl
toward the center of the room.

    Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!
    Stomp went elephant hooves!

I crawled and crawled till out of breath,
sweating like humid air. Paused:

no sound but exhale
inhale, exhale,

a wail

from the TV, a gunshot, an anchorman yelling at the camera
fragging my ears:

    Marine … captured … terror …
    Roadside bomb … injured …
    Discharge … hostage … report …

I crawled. Liberty stomped. I crawled.
Rummy chafed

his hands upon the table.

    Green Zone … Baghdad … humvee …
    Attack … dead … security …
    Soldiers … saved …

I looked over my shoulder, caught Rummy running, no,
sprinting, toward the front door,
slamming it shut
to kill a draft.

The back door flew open. An army of little people
filed in wearing fatigues and flak jackets:
Gnomes, dwarfs, half-sized midgets,
big children, little children,
Lilliputians of every color
and size.

I crawled …

    General … warned … investigation …
    President … press …
    Private … company …

I crawled till near enough to see the beast’s expanding belly,
her trunk raised high like an Abrams cock, stiff and pointing to the sky.
A vague image along the length of it caught my eye
and I forced myself closer, and closer, closer still
until I could catch a better look. And there,

there, from the moist lips of this historic beast
to the tip of its snout, was the image, the brazen image of a man,
a man upon a cross, crowned by thorns
from which streams of red
bled, and a puncture wound in his rib.
And who else might this savior, this carrier

of all man be? Who else but His Purpled Majesty,
the Love of God Almighty? Who else but the one,
the wonderful, wise counselor, the venerable
Adam Smith?


The little people fell into lockstep,
lined up against the wall
behind Liberty, each taking
his or her assigned place
like school children
complying with the promise
of a stout ruler.

Rummy stood, declared victory,
but the game was hardly over.
He turned, scowled at Liberty
and kicked his feet in a dead
frantic run toward me.

Something pounded my head. I felt it trickle down
my cheeks. Looking up, I caught a load
of sand in my face. Liberty’s defecating rump
filled the room and I found myself
seeking refuge huddled in the midst
of the little people, hugging the rusty chain.

Bet reclined on a Queen Anne chaise,
her tattered evening dress hanging
from a gash in the vaulted ceiling;
stripes and stars of red, white and blue
fell lower to rest at half-mast. Bet’s cold,
feeble constitution made her look aged
and worn. Youthful beauty but a passing phase,
her useful years all gone, the paint on her nails
faded, fell to the floor at her shoeless feet.
A diamonded brocade wrapped her hips,
and nothing more, in ancient dress. Her smile
seemed barren as her empty mouth, a chamber full
but devoid of teeth. She sat, knees locked,
hands clasped, body idle as an act of Congress,
pale and poised only to breathe.

The noise from the TV prattled inside my head. I looked down
and saw my limbs covered with sand. Liberty now
sweating and shitting sand by the gallons.

Lifting myself to my knees, I caught a glimpse of Liberty’s trunk
swatting flies, slinging sand in every direction
like an insurrection.

The little people rushed in,
clamored to get their piece
of Liberty’s rough, dry hide.
I could feel myself sink lower
and lower into the sand
and watched the elephant
stomp and kick and crush
the little people one by one
till not a one left standing.

Rummy rose like a towering ranger,
looking like an old maid sipping afternoon tea.
He pulled a sledgehammer out from the depths
of the rising sand, began swatting flies while the four
kind fellows from the table dropped their cards
and knelt like prayer warriors singing hymns
to forgotten gods, chanting

“Hail, ye burden!
Hail, ye burden!”

to the pusillanimous muses of battlefield PR, praising
Liberty with words of steel and pickpocket daisy chains,
taking time out of their busy schedules to train sheepherders,
teaching them to place roadside bombs for $50 a pop.

Sand continued to flow from the elephant's ass and cunt and trunk.
To the south, a yellow cake rose up in the middle of the desert.
Out of its center sprang a geranium, standing like a First Cause,
kept secure by a pool of black water. Dripping with guilt and sand,
she gave birth to a desert of dust that soon took over the whole house,
consumed the entire cast, a restless crew of backseat bus drivers
riding to war on other men's magic carpets, their own much too
precious to let a single speck of oil drain into lifelong commitments;

and I,
I stood,

Afraid of the cost, aware and too certain of the losses, I stood,
forced myself to my blistering feet as Liberty stumbled and crashed
to the sand-filled floor.

Trying to clear my mind, I made a balderdash run
toward the front door

headed to the only place
I knew I’d find redemption, pushed
on the back door of a trailer
on the corner of Sandbox and Patriot
Club Drive, next door to where Grannie Jefferson
had once baked her cakes and cookies. Full of regrets,

I plunged my way down the murderous hall,
toes ripping at scarred carpet, undressed
in the dank, delapidated air,
slipped into moist bed sheets
and mounted the back
of Sam, an old friend from school, a girl
I hadn't loved in almost a lifetime,
roped my arms around her
brawny breasts and whispered, “I'm home.”

In the wake of silent remembrances of war and peace,
I fell asleep, dreamed of Xanadu.