Mudlark Flash No. 93 (2015)

Bomber Boy by Idris Anderson

Obviously, tonight there are still many
unanswered questions. Among them, why 
did young men who grew up and studied here, 
as part of our communities and our country, 
resort to such violence? 
                                        Barack Obama
                                        April 19, 2013
Could he could have escaped my classroom without 
a wound to show for all the problems he solved, 
the essays he wrote, the languages he spoke, 
his grin, his curly head, his tall lean shape 
so agile in his soccer shoes, music in the earplugs 
in his ears, explosions of steel and drums, 
lyrics only a trained listener could parse 
into shrapnel to make some kind of sense of a whirling 
world, the jokes he told afterwards and the jokes 
he listened to, his thumbs so casually in his pockets 
full of batteries and wires, ball bearings and bb shot, 
directions printed straight from a website,
folded neatly, as pure as all his learning?
He could have been my student, I his teacher.

Exclusion and escape. The backpack slips 
from the shoulder. The lash out. X marks what? 
The spot in the stomach, the end of the race, the crossroad, 
the crosshair, the map grid, the shoot-out, the night 
walk through the backyards by the garbage cans 
to the plastic flap, the boat womb, its pool 
of blood, yes, there must be blood, the exit wound 
drips, the dry throat and the curling tongue.
Exhaustion, exasperation, and the useless gun. 
From the helicopter, the negative image is clear: 
the bomber boy in the boat and the black gun, 
the human fetal shape still moving like a worm. 
Then leg up over the gunnel. Then oxygen mask
and body check, the ribs bare, no booby trap. 
Bone house.  Body trap. To be human is to know 
our best efforts lead us to our doom, 
even if we are American, especially if our dreams 
are American and freedom means whatever you want it
to mean: to be the doctor who sews the wound
so carefully there is no scar.  It’s not a cakewalk,
I tell you as your teacher, or lead you to discover 
for yourself in the text we’re reading. But first I must 
explain the metaphor. Who knows what is a cakewalk? 
Something like the opposite of a plankwalk, but not at all 
like the diving board from which you leap elegantly.
Stede Bonnet, gentleman pirate, though full of learning, 
though he never made anyone walk the plank, never
won a cakewalk. He was hanged in my hometown.

His parents thought he was studying to be a doctor.
They imagined his textbooks with pictures of the body in color,
the insides opened out, muscles, vessels, organs,
nerve and bone, so many terms and procedures 
to memorize—all doable. The chemistry too, 
the formulas, the drugs and scalpels, dissections 
of the body slow and careful. With a native mastery 
of English, and all that freedom, it was not just possible, 
likely. Their bright boy, his mother’s “angel,” 
a high school graduate living in a dorm room— 
he would be a good doctor. Who’s to be blamed 
or pitied here? Point fingers, someone, will you? 
Follow the sensational news: so many cut off
at the knees, having run the race in good time.

O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right—
just that one line—did we talk enough about it? 
What could have been said or done in my classroom 
about woundedness and exclusion, inequities in the guise 
of equities, volatilities and the instinctive blaming 
of the mother, girlfriend, the weakest who wouldn’t yield, 
who had become strong, the friend who stood nearby 
and watched with no understanding, then concealed evidence.
Eyes that met the eyes of the man who lost his legs,
who would find him out—too late, it’s always too late.
The easy stroll along Boylston, the white cap— 
this boy, who kept his secrets from his teacher, 
had memorized all the soliloquies and stuffed them in
his backpack with the bomb, a pressure cooker. 

“Losers,” says the uncle to the press, his emphatic 
dissociation, refusal to claim kin. Who will bury 
the brother, after the autopsies, the body examined, 
re-examined? Gunshots, blunt trauma to the head, 
arms, torso. He walked toward policemen, plainly 
suicidal, firing a pistol. He was the loser, shot 
down, run over in the get-away by the carjacked black 
Mercedes SUV, the younger boy the driver, 
who dragged his brother’s body forty yards.  
Was he alive? His brother’s killer? Moot point. 
Pity the undertaker who volunteered to take the body, 
a plot found at last for burial far away, secretly 
in Virginia. Everyone in denial. No one assuming 
anyone had any part in this. Hang the bastard.

When a bomb detonates, the skin breaks, sometimes
the bone. The pressure canister explodes into hate 
for the A-rab, the muzzie, the nigger, the chink, the spic, 
the raghead, the redneck, the dago, the kike, the mick.
Hang political correctness, the slow speed of judgment.  
The plea is “not guilty.” If the boy wants his life, 
he’ll need to express regret. Contrition is compelling, 
at least a credible lie. He’ll need coaching. 
His statement in the indictment: “The U.S. government 
is killing our innocent civilians. I can’t stand to see 
such evil go unpunished.”  His truth, and doom. 
No remorse. No lies. I can make no sense 
of the convolutions in this moral knot 
that involves me and you and America.

Idris Anderson’s first collection of poems, Mrs. Ramsay’s Knee, was selected by Harold Bloom for the May Swenson Poetry Award 2008 and published by Utah State University Press. She has published poems in AGNI On-Line, Arts & Letters Prime, Crab Orchard Review, The Hudson Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Nation, Ontario Review, The Paris Review, Plume, Southern Review, ZYZZYVA and other journals. She has won a Pushcart Prize (2010) and a Pushcart Special Mention (2012). Anderson has held grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study lyric poetry with Helen Vendler at Harvard University and to study Virginia Woolf in London. She was born and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, but moved to the San Francisco Bay Area almost two decades ago, when she was awarded an NEH Teacher-Scholar grant to study Greek and Greek tragedy at Stanford University, and she has made her home in the Bay Area ever since. She recently completed a residency at The MacDowell Colony.

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