Saturday, July 2, 2016

Standpipe: Delivering Water In Flint

All of it, everything at a glance; one room, sink, television, low hills of upholstery rising above stacks of magazines and stuffed plastic bags, stove and fridge, opaque windows, roll-away bed, irregular shapes in the middle distance rising against dim walls sinking back into gloom.  We stack water under a walker, beside a box fan.  My partner notes the green indicator light on the faucet filter.  No, the man says, he hasn’t had his water checked for lead, doesn’t know how.   Seated in a wide manual wheelchair, no foot rests, he wears a red tee shirt over an expanse of belly, draw string jersey pants, also red.  His hair is long, the color of old piano ivory, beard patchy and white.  Toenails that look like bits of shale from the bottom of a miners pan.  He squints, cocks his head, looks by turns startled and resigned.  Framed black and white photos on the wall, carefully arranged.  Vintage tank, officers in khaki, a handshake medal tableau, trucks on white sand below white clouds, palm trees, a tower.  The pictures there, what branch were you in, I ask?  The man’s left eye drifts, a battered blueberry bobbing in a dollop of buttermilk.  Left hand clutched, fingers missing.  That’s my dad, he says.  Marines.  My son, too.  Twenty years.  He sits up straight, narrows his clear right eye.  Marines, the three of them.  Vietnam.  One tour. ‘67.   One word answers, a moment of silence.  Slumps suddenly, says, we went over a hundred and forty nine of us.  There’s only four came back.   Were you at Khe Sanh?  Goes somewhere for a moment, returns.  Yea….yes!  On the porch sits a small wooden box, an open cradle full of straw.  We puzzled over it on the way in.  I glance at it walking back out.  Too small for a dog.  Just right for a plaster baby Jesus.  Besieged at Khe Sanh/Santa Claus hums/ Silent Night soft and low/to ward off Herod’s men arrayed below. 

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