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April 15, 2024


By Ian Mullins


Kids with blades in their hands,
breakfast at five a.m in the twenty-four
hour cafe; eyes chemically bright,
plastic boots baggy at the heels.
When you reach for sugar -- three inches
of black coffee glazed like paste --
I can see mosquito bites on the heels
of your hands, where the blade slipped
and blood spread between you
like strawberry jam.

You don’t have to shout ‘Bang!’ to fire
a bullet any more, or sew a new mouth
in another kid’s skin. But his scream
will still wake you when your hair
is not white by choice. When your eyes

are as narrow as a sniper’s trench
you will remember the boy you opened,
the worms of his body steaming
in the cold; and try to remember
how many times you cut a worm in half
before it failed to beat the count.

This is the life you will grow into,
wearing a uniform until it becomes
your familiar, and you forget it was once
a disguise; a ten year investment
in deciding how to live your life.

Old but still dreaming, you will wonder
at the boy stowing his coffee, leaping to his feet
as his bleeper sounds: charging across the road
to where the hospital shines like a headlight
under water, slowly sinking from view.
Pre-op for surgery at six.

Article © Ian Mullins. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-02-06
Image(s) are public domain.
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