The Vietnam Effectby Jennifer Schoch
The aroma of lilac drew me
away from my son
quiet as a crystal bowl in his stroller,
the early curious mosquitos almost kept us home.
Am I able to appreciate
her symmetrical perfection, without conjuring your pain?
I am fearful of this flower
I am panicked by her swift impermanence,
of my inability to hold her comforting fragrance
for those mostly marshmallowed mugs of hot chocolate days,
sequestered from the dirty New Jersey snow
where the radiators’ imbalance
from room to room
would make you yell when we opened the windows just a crack
“Goddamn waste of money!”
And the belts sang in their choir on the back of the closet door,
because the boys were fighting over remote controls again
And then, after my downward gaze had watched your darkness dissipate into the cracks between the hardwood floors,
You would read me Shakespeare:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
why I ran away?
To places where there are no seasons
to the endless
where flowers never seem to die.
Your toes were stained with cigarette ash the last time I kissed you goodbye.
even kiss you?
You hadn’t showered for weeks
and I was scared.
Scared of your skin
scared of your scents
scared of my
The blue of your eyes was bright
against the rivers of bloodshot.
Mom says your eyes were green
It’s like she never knew you
Sad and lonely, you asked me to stay
“I hate LA.”
Like my brothers also bound to plastic liters?
They were small like my boy,
like you were once.
I am fearful in the face of this flower and her reminders.
Your grandson screams now like a broken dish
I wonder if you are there
out into the black jungle for God to spare you
for your mother
for a future with mom
for a future with me
with a grandson you will never meet.
How could you have known this jungle
it would never leave?
Dying on the old hardwood floor in May
did you make it to the yard that Spring?
The worst death you died is not your final fall
it is the tree outside our window
cowering with dainty, dusty stars
you could not notice.
Did you glance outside that morning
and think to tell me of the lilacs that had bloomed?
Was your fall swift?
A small, unopened purple “bud of May”
gently shaken free?
The pain you healed, my father,
by noticing the lilacs
reading Shakespeare in Irish accents.
The unfolding damage it has caused,
in the tiniest creations
this unreconciled war from long ago.
* * * * *
Jennifer Schoch is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California where she received a master’s degree in Social Work. She is currently staying home with her young son while contributing as a writer for a book entitled Social Work and the Arts: Grounds for New Horizons. She has written, performed and directed for the screen and stage.