They take the new machine gun out of its wrap
in pieces, the flat black barrel, the other
parts, delicate in their oil, plastic stock
like a toy until snapped onto the rest,
pressed against the shoulder of the corporal
with almost white blond hair. He looks around
for something to sight in on. With a grin
the other, darker one points to three
children dawdling to school along a paddy dike.
The first rounds are high and the gunner adjusts,
fires again, the children running now,
the rounds pluming in the wet paddies,
another click and all but one child has made
the safety of the treeline, the other splashing
into the new rice, and as the gunner sights in
on him, this eight year old, with wisdom perhaps
from the dead, yanks off his red shirt, becomes
the same color as the fields, the gunner lowering
the muzzle now, whispering a wistful, damn.
“Two Boys” is taken from Doug Anderson’s collection The Moon Reflected Fire. Published by Alice James Books, it won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for 1995. His poetry collection Blues for Unemployed Secret Police was awarded a grant from the Eric Matthieu King Fund of the Academy of American Poets. Last year his memoir, Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, the Sixties and a Journey of Self-Discovery, was published by W.W. Norton. He teaches in the MFA Program at Pacific University of Oregon. The author’s photo was taken by Kinsey Cronin. The poem is reprinted with permission.