by Abigail Koontz

In the autumn, stories fall. My father grins, loose and 
toothy, standing as he does beneath early winter trees
in the backyard of my youth, an old red rake clasped
in his hands. Tell me a story I say, as he rubs the shadow
of a beard on his face. This one time he starts, his eyes
alight with the memory of his own experience, and I kick
blazing leaves, my face the color of apples, his voice
crushed pine—this one time, he says, my buddy
Eddy got himself a mohawk, thought he was a real
punk. My father drinks coffee in our kitchen, smoothing
calloused hands across a table top he finished
years ago. The first time he returned he gave to me 
a set of silver dog tags stamped: KOONTZ, DAVID A,
O POS, PROTESTANT. I was nine and did not know 
the meaning of O POS or God or why my father 
stood among men wearing clothes the color
of dull trees, haircuts, foreheads like polished boxes,
boots with heels to crush bone. He left for the desert—
returned—cursing smoking carefully considering
the garage doors of steel standing so stoically
like they owned the whole goddamned place
as he hurled his dust beige boots then sank, his hands
holding his head, cocooning himself on the floor. My mother 
cried. Later I asked for a story. Instead, he dropped St. Michael 
into my pink palm—silver, tethered to a chain, here you go,
a Saint to protect you. He drank black liquid, straight up,
two sugars and a stir of the spoon. Once more he placed 
a fresh set round his neck in the summer of my fifteenth year:
for the sands of Falahat. He’d call, and across the line
the great roaring rush of a sandstorm, HELLO MY SWEET 
YOUR SISTER AND—it was that year in biology 
I finally understood O POS. He returned home twelve months 
later, to trade in his boots for moccasins the color 
of cinnamon bark. Now, on crisp leaf mornings, he conjures 
flames on the bricks of our fireplace, stacks wood 
as he whistles to the black Lab running, before 
coming in, wrapping his arms around my mother
where she stands with her wrists deep in a sink
of hot suds—his hands follow hers into rich 
warm water and I think of all that humans can do.
On the screen we watch a soldier shoot a civilian
in the bombed out shell of a broken down street—I watch
his eyes, his face, and cannot comprehend what I 
see there. My father sighs, pulls a smoke from his lips 
and says there was that time you know when I got real pissed
I snapped and I thought just shoot him and my heart
it was pounding and my men they were shouting and it blew
straight to hell the Humvee we were in but I got 
my guys out I got my men out goddamnit I got my men 
and he drags the air in. He turns, looks at cherry trees unfurling
in the backyard where we stand and tell our stories.
And I wear his name around my neck.