Cry Havoc and Let Slip – Jennifer Highland

                      tumbling like hounds
rat-tat argument of machine gun
          and the afternoon explodes . . .

This is how the war begins:
you and me squared off in the kitchen
             fists clenched
             mouths all cold metal
waiting for a false move

               of twig
and the trigger finger bends
dogs burst from the kennel door
the soldier on watch startles and
                strafes the hillside

Dogs do not understand mercy
       their quick teeth do what they were made
to do    (slash
       vessels – gut
                flesh – expose
       the heart)

Torn bodies bleed into dirt under the howl
             and whine of rockets

I stand my ground
              anger a
grenade in my hand
pin fallen to the floor

        I am armor-plated
like the tanks that churn forward
              over boots and bones
spouting fire

Bullets do not understand mercy—
               metal singing through sternum, pericardium
                       at 320 meters per second
               each slug a vagrant looking for a place to crash—
               bedding down in brain, in breast, while all
                              grows cold

And do I understand anything anymore?

              I Love You is a country we
       can barely remember
(the rockets’ red glare, the bombs)
               and homesickness flickers
like a small but fatal wound deep
                             in the chest

If only we could undo this thing:
              Find the moment
(snap of a twig)
              where the soldier on watch sees
              the one-eyed cur
nosing through bushes
              as the trigger finger bends

Let slip the dogs
        back through the kennel door
        Let slip
the safety into its catch
the pin into the heart of the grenade
Cry havoc
        oh cry
JHighlandJennifer Highland’s poetry has appeared in Watershed Review, Rappahannock Review, Heron Tree, Josephine Quarterly, and elsewhere. She practices osteopathy in central New Hampshire.