Flamenco at the Thirsty Bear. Jim Gunshinan

About Jim Gunshinan

 • The Artificial Heart
 • Heroes
 • Geography Lessons
 • Blue Cornflowers
 • Living by Water
 • Upon This Rock
 • The Man Dad Brought
    Home from the War
 • Physics
 • Black and White
 • Not the Mom We Were
    Used To
 • Nothing Sacred
 • Spring
 • Transformation
 • Please Straighten That Up
 • Up from Depression
 • What the Body Wants
 • Compassion
 • Commute
 • Kiss Me
 • Starter Castles
 • Flamenco at the Thirsty
 • A Nature Poem
 • Portrait of a Woman from
   the Gardens of Egypt in the
   First Century



Living by Water

A creek ran in our backyard, down a short slope
and paralleled our street, Hedin Drive, named after
one of the Korean War vets who developed

a plot of land a few miles from the D.C. border
within the boundary of what would become
the Beltway. At the end of the block

on Oakview Drive was a bridge.
Our street was a horseshoe
and Oakview closed it at both ends, to keep the luck in

or maybe out. I don’t remember
ever following the creek under it
and going to the other side.

I saw Jimmy White feeling up his girlfriend
under the bridge, one Sunday morning
as I walked to serve the 6:30 Mass. I got into

a rock fight once, with some older boys at the bridge.
My friend Conrad—who a year later had open-heart surgery—
and I stood at the rail above and chucked

rocks down at them, I don’t remember why. One grey rock
an almost perfect ellipse, a few inches end to end
landed between my eyes before I could duck. I screamed

Conrad ran, and a man painting a house up the street
got me and took me home. I stayed
in my parents’ bedroom all afternoon

and didn’t need stitches. My mom, a nurse
and so unimpressed by bodily damage
made me a butterfly bandage

by cutting two opposed triangles
from the standard Band-Aid. The room
was air conditioned, the only one in the house.

At the other end of our side of the block
two men—Mr. C and Mr. E—
within weeks of each other

went out just past the boundaries of their back yards
within the trees and scrub that lined the creek
and killed themselves with a rifle in the mouth.

Their blood must have seeped into the ground
and during the next heavy rain
it must have mingled in the creek

which continued into the Anacostia River
the Potomac, the Chesapeake Bay and then
the Atlantic.

It’s as if they wanted to
join the general flow out of the suburbs
and their allotted quarter-acre.

My brother Tom, returning from boot camp
with a duffle bag over his shoulder, fresh from a long
bus ride came home on the Fourth of July

following the annual parade up to the school
where we watched fireworks. A few weeks later
he walked away in the other direction.

We had neighborhood hide-and-seek games
on summer nights. On Fridays
Mom made pizza for all the kids.

Down the block, Mr. Garvey showed
The Pit
and the Pendulum
on a white bedsheet strung between trees in his backyard.

We watched it on our backs in the grass.
A few miles away black people were rioting
after the murder of Martin Luther King.

I turned nine on June 23rd.
We used to get half our age in dollars
to spend on a gift. Later when I was in college

and I tried to think
of something interesting to say, something to make me seem
sophisticated, I said

nothing much happened in the suburbs
but down the street
D.C. was burning.

  © Jim Gunshinan, 2013


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