Song of Sarajevo

When Gavrilo shot the Archduke
as he rode unknowingly in his funeral motorcade,
the heir’s blood a blooming poppy on his chest,
he surely did not anticipate
that the trigger pulled on the pale gray morning
would bring me to sit shaking
in my linen closet,
door closed and lights off,
wrapped in a worn comforter
trying to dredge my soul back into my bones,
one bitter February evening a hundred years later.

An unbroken line of broken fathers
was born from the bullet
fired that Sunday in June.
Including mine
who dresses in midnight wool
under the pressing summer sun,
draped in clouds of tobacco
and discolored medals won
by boys led blindly into battle,
and reenacts his grandfather’s war
every other Saturday
at the old fort, instead
of playing dress-up
with his lonely daughter,
alone in my brothers’ world.

Did Gavrilo know that the shot would echo
echo every day in the hearts of men
as they wrestled with their short-
sightedness and grease-dipped hands?

My father brought me back a bullet
once, when he returned from his war
I set down a spade to receive the heavy
lead in my hands. He dropped it
in my palms and walked through the sandbox
without stopping.

I carry that bullet with me
through four moves,
never quite losing it
among the packing tape, the boxes,
the new faces and hours alone.

Billeted in a dorm built for students
as compensation for grinding down
the edges of their souls
on a war born from their fathers’ unwillingness
to rebuild and repair, I learn
to cook for one. One plate, one fork, one
evening after another on my couch, alone.

That same scene replayed religiously
before I am – one late afternoon – invited
into a different darkened closet,
and sit knee-to-knee with a man
dressed in his all-black uniform,
a gold-lined slash of purple like a banner across his chest.
A man whose power I resent but cannot dismiss,
who by his chosenness
speaks his father’s loving words
and holds his father’s creation –
not self-destruction –
in his own hands
every day,
he asks me to release my clenched fist.

At his end, the damp and the rats
had made sure that even Gavrilo didn’t
have a fist left to unclench.

On my way out the door
I dip my opening hand in the water
to be blessed, and with the softest ache,
the steel weight of my father’s unhappiness
settles at the bottom of the basin
to wait and to rust.

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