Bruce Cohen

Bedtime Story
June 20, 2020 Cohen Bruce

Bedtime Story



It wasn’t only my father who believed in the romanticism of war
Even though his own kin dodged the holocaust in root cellars.
Mesmerized by black & white westerns on the tube, he rooted for the underdog
Comanche & Sioux. It was, I think, 1972, the penultimate year of the draft-lottery
& some of my pals were already engaged in the X-Rated underground un-Disney
Version of Cambodia, surreal John Wayne flicks replaying continuously
In their heads with no commercial breaks, no dolled up housewives hawking


Miracle spot removers. No draft dodger, my old man served in WWII with a cushy
Gig in a very foreign country, Texas, because he claimed to be a card-carrying
Musician, an aficionado of the maracas. One furlough night he & his buds
Were half-passed-out on the gulf sand when a one-man Japanese spy sub ran amuck,
Ran aground & the petrified soldier surrendered in the only three English words
He memorized to the jittery redneck boy & young shyster who didn’t even have
Trigger fingers, only drumsticks & maracas. I watched the lottery on TV & drew


An excruciatingly low number. The night before my physical my pops pontificated
The pro-patriotic pep talk, & though he knew I was scared, his oratory bravado
Promised he’d hang my photo in my army duds over his cash register. I didn’t come
Home the night before my physical; I finagled a strung-out drop-out to load up a syringe
Of heroin. I smelled the acrid sulfur as he held the match under his bent spoon.
His hands were not shaking. I stared at the bending moon as he injected the smack
Into my vein. Naturally I flunked & the long haired doctor scribbled my name


In some FBI file, winked, informed me I had flat feet to boot. The war was dwindling
Anyway. On the nightly news rural villagers & intellectuals tossed their mixed-blood
Offspring & crammed into overcrowded helicopters, the helicopter-wind decapitated
Palm trees. When I got home my old man was sitting in his usual chair in the penumbra,
The only glow from the John Wayne western he wasn’t exactly paying attention to.
His ashtray overflowed with non-filter stubs. Blue tobacco smoke hung like unarticulated
Napalm. I was woozy & discombobulated & unsure & couldn’t hold down solid food.


My rehearsed soliloquy was that I failed the test but did not feel un-American.
I have flat feet; they couldn’t take me. But before I got to speak,
He’d handed me a thick envelope, licked tight with his loving saliva & said,
Militaristically, it might be wise to exchange these dollars for Canadian currency.
He didn’t turn off the television & went to bed, never asked for the envelope back.
I heard a muffled conversation behind their bedroom door & my mother’s exhale.
Forty years later, I still have it, unopened, unsure what to do with it.

Bruce Cohen has published five volumes of poetry. His most recent, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays, was awarded the 2015 Green Rose Prize (New Issues Press). His poems have appeared in many literary periodicals including AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, The Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry & The Southern Review.