Brian Burt

There’s an old high school buddy of mine
who liked to sketch dead things and who
when his dad lost the farm—all the land,
all the cattle—headed west after graduating.
I lost track of what came next, but I hear
he earned his stripes by making
bloody body parts for slasher flicks
in Hollywood. He specialized in heads
that looked so real you’d swear
that last scream still lingered
on the tip of its rubber tongue.
He’s already retired.
Still, his nickname sometimes starts
to take shape in the back of my throat
though I never can quite remember
what we used to call him.
These days I don’t care to scare myself
if I don’t have to. I can barely work my way
through the day’s newspaper—the black
headlines rounding up the daily slaughters,
major and minor, on the page,
as if anything will ever change—
as if I could ever forget how
our ninth-grade history teacher
made us all watch Night and Fog:
the bulldozers shoving floppy corpses,
heads lolling slack onto bony shoulders,
into massive excavations in black and white,
or how, after occupying itself
with the matter for the past few decades,
my mind has often been unsettled
by a dream in which
an SS Einsatzgruppe is busy
herding a few hundred families
stumbling down a dirt road
through the winter woods
near Riga, the panic pooling
in the eyes of the children,
and then the captives digging
shallow trenches for themselves
to tumble into with holes in the backs
of their heads placed there by a pistol held
in the hand of an eighteen-year-old
farm boy from Schwaben
who only recently had learned to laugh
to himself about how the screams
all sound the same anyway.