When dad’s grief

unbottled itself,

when he could not square


his guilt over the dad

he could not love,

when his beast of a past


coiled him, a rattler

ready to strike,

he would tell the story.


I still try to picture it,

my grandfather,

deep lines in his red face,


trademark overalls,

a Fedora tipped

over one eye,


ordering a whiskey

from a line of bottles

behind bored barkeeps,


the bar’s stale gloom,

barely visible through

the smoke of Camels


fingered by old drinkers

schlumped on stools,

regulars like him


who wished he’d

get on with it, shoot

the bitch and bastard,


or shut the fuck up.

No one this night noticed

how his pocket curved,


saw his old Army pistol,

a loaded Colt .45,

that minutes later


just outside their reach

would bare

its yellow heat


into the bar’s plate

glass, didn’t guess

how whiskey still


in hand, he’d smoke

the orange circles

of streetlights


and red neons

flashing nickel beer

and Budweiser,


or how bar mirrors

would reflect a man

slurried in a slough


of his own making

melt down on a

cracked sidewalk,


alone with the years

that tripped

him there,


his boy left behind,

frozen in time

no feeling in his blue feet.


by Janet Reed


Janet Reed is a 2017 and 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nassau Review, Chiron Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Avalon Review, I-70 Review, and others. She is at work on her first collection and teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.

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