Imprint, May 1970

Imprint, May 1970

I tell you the skin alone cannot contain
the brawl of a generation —
we burned flags before the helmets
and the dogs rabid with our parents’ teeth.
Then we locked arms, swaying
and cheered when the match struck.
We watched, swore the jelly of napalm
would not silence the corpses
pulled from rice paddies in another world.

We thought our skin could still contain
the body blows, the clubs and guns
that struck down one
by one by one by one

I shuffled through white china rows
of lunchtime professors
my black armband for the dead
the frat boys on scholarship
carrying thick-skinned pudding
trays of coffee and cream
counted the days until graduation
Mao and a map of Canada
hidden in their back pockets.

A girl on the television in the foyer
bent down, transfixed, screaming
skin stretched taut to the corners
her arms outstretched, protesting
the body of the sprawled boy before her
blood seeps from sinew to dermis
her young face twists
when a camera clicks like a bullet
in a chamber of the heart and we are naive
as though fists had never bruised us before

I stopped dropped
the sheets of colored paper
like blood flowering
on the four-cornered floor.

They say even Nixon broke
when they started killing the students
the rupture of skin splitting open
a wound even he could not stitch together
so when they told me it was over
I didn’t believe them
that scar on membrane and flesh
smoothing over but will not slough off

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