Retired soldier Dwight Gray presents a haunting meditation on youth, Halloween, and gun culture.
“Say orange again,” she needles me,
and my Pennyrile accent.
It is an old joke – “orange ya glad,”
For years I practiced dropping that accent
from the window of a car speeding
down some western highway,
but stopped at the word Orange,
unable to form that pained O,
to birth the sound of round fruit,
of jack-o-lantern and fire,
of farmwork, soil and solitude
wondering what occupied
kids in their subdivisions seen
walking streetsides together,
glad hands waving to passing cars.
Glad is a sky anything but orange.
I’ll tell you a story about glad –
when most kids carried pumpkin-shaped pails
on a door to door quest for sugar highs
on the eve of All Saints penance and puking,
I cupped my hands, warmed them with hot breath
on the season’s first frost. The old man reached
into a cardboard box, counted five
as they dropped to my makeshift basket.
She listens but I wonder if she sees
weathered tobacco barns
or Halloween streets beneath the glow of red-gold
sodium vapor lamps, a father dressed
as the Count, lurking in shadows,
a mother opening doors, asking
“And who might you be?”
but I can only hear the old man’s voice,
“point it down, never to the house, never
to anyone unless you’re ready . . .”
and we readied
balancing pumpkins from the patch atop fenceposts,
firing practice shots until we no longer saw
orange bursts. I learned not to believe in orange
sunsets, only in Remington, only in my back
against a weathered tinderbox barn.
October air cut the skin, he never shivered,
so I learned to stand expression unchanging.
Tobacco dust burned the nose
and a year’s salary hung in the tiers.
The old man and I took turns on watch.
Times I find myself scanning the horizon
for glints of orange,
guarding against a terror
we hoped would never come.
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–Photo by andrewpprice/Flickr