from the editors

current issue

past issues



Follow UCityReview on Twitter



James Lineberger



Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Hebrews 13:2 (KJV)


That August, after we hit Hiroshima
and the other one
a convict got loose from a road gang working near
Barber Junction and made his way
to my grandma's farm, a distance of about
five miles. Grandma had already died by then,
and left the place to my Uncle Foster who came home
from Panama to take over and do a few
renovations, like the indoor toilet he added,
and the electric refrigerator and stove. He was retired
but still in the Army Reserves
and attached to the National Guard in Salisbury, leaving his daughter,
Joyce Anne to do most of the chores when she got home
from school, make the beds, feed the chickens, and the hog she called
Little Piggy, and throw hay to the mule, who was named Muley,
and do her homework and still have time
to have her daddy's supper ready when he got off work. It was Joyce Anne's twelfth
birthday when the convict arrived, and a good
two hours before Uncle Foster would get home in his
Army jeep. You might wonder if all these
things are important in a story, and maybe they are not, but this is the way
Joyce Anne told it to me back then. I was a couple years
older than her, and we were living at Steele Creek, outside of
Charlotte, where my daddy and mama worked at the bomb plant, and when I first heard
Joyce Anne tell it, everything
seemed like it went together, all the Japs getting burnt up and mama's skin going yellow
from the gunpowder and the convict
busting into the house tanned almost black from the weather Joyce Anne said
and gulping water from the well bucket
like a man that had been lost in the desert,
and she told him she said
if you hurt me my daddy is a veteran in the U. S. Army
and he will shoot you dead with his machine gun, but the convict just
frowned and said all he wanted was some supper and what
was that he smelled on the stove.  Just some creasy greens and pintos Joyce Anne said,
but we got tomatoes and fresh corn off the cob too, and some biscuits, wishing it was more,
she said but I am not much of a cook. When daddy was stationed at Balboa we
had this maid Gabriela from Panama City that did
the cooking and everything else because mama had died
and I was just a little girl who did get to where
I learned some of the Spanish like mira and por favor and no mas
but Gabriela wouldn't let me go near the gas stove
afraid I would catch myself on fire
except she got off at three and didn't do supper and all daddy could cook
was steaks on the grill. They ate lots of steaks in Balboa Joyce Anne said,
and they got their beef from Argentina where the gauchos live, she told the convict,
but the only meat she had right now was
some fat back in the beans.  So she fixed him his supper and put out
the blue china plates and a cloth
napkin and her mama's good silver just like for her daddy but the man was
too hungry to notice
she said and he didn't even look up or say thank you
when she gave him a second
helping but the radio was on with the five o'clock news and all
they talked about now was Hiroshima Nagasaki, Hiroshima Nagasaki, and Joyce Anne
told the convict if he was tired of all that she would turn it off
but he said no leave it on
in case they might say something about him
and see if he was famous and armed with
a deadly weapon,
but the announcer on the radio said the Japs went running out into
the river to get away from the flaming ruins
and destruction
only the water was full of dead
people and the river was on fire too
and the name
of the plane was Bockscar but you wouldn't know
how it was spelled just to hear it
the radio man said and the convict said now if that don't
beat all I rode many a boxcar when
I was your age heading out to californya
to pick lettuce and save our fambly
from the poorhouse after daddy threw his self off the roof at the Five and Dime
and here they go now with a boxcar
carrying nothing
but the biggest bomb in the whole world and I swear girl
I don't know what difference it makes
killing all them Japs
when look at me they catch me now
it's thirty more days in the hole
and two more years in the snow and the rain and the damn heat
cause they aim to kill me too
one way or another
and I aint the enemy all I ever did was steal some cigarettes to
sell up north
and who does that hurt tell me that
I aint no angel either but
if I ever get to Heaven if there is such a place
I don't care if it's got Japs or
Nazis or puppy dogs or somebody's maid from Panama
I could flap my wings with any of em
and rise up in glory and look down at the bombs going off and plain
not give a good goddamn
cause you know what he said I don't know
what kinda army your daddy
was in but I was at Saipan and Guadie both till they had enough of me
and throwed me out
on a Section 8 for pointing my M-1
at a captain that was taking a shit on this piled-up bunch of Jap bodies
not that I was any stranger to degredation
I seen my share and these Nips was all messed up in the usual way
from souvenir hunters, teeth knocked out or their ears or heads cut off, missing a arm or
a leg, so you get used to these kinda things but something that day
set me off and it wasn't right and I was thinking about people
back home on the home front and all the sacrifices they had to endure even saving tin foil
from chewing gum wrappers and to make things worse
the captain had the squirts just fucking green splatters and I said hitch em up, sir,
at's anuff a that but
he just laughed at me and said you better get your head on straight gyrene
these here aint people these is dead Nips
and I will piss on em and shit on em and he pulled out his .45 and fired off
the whole mag at the bodies
and kill em all over again goddamit now you
put that weapon down, son,
or it is going to get too deep for you
to dig out
so what was I supposed to do stand there and giggle
like that damn fool hell no
I hit him in the face with the rifle butt and when he was down and out
in his own excrement I stooped over and sliced off
one of his ears with my Kabar
which he later blamed on a Jap and got a Purple Heart for it,
so after they sent me home naturally
they wouldn't nobody hire me and the only trade I knew
was running cigarettes to the Big Apple
but I bet you he didn't crap on nobody else's dead body
and if I ever meet up with him again I don't
hold no grudges
and I would just hug him like a brother and ask if he wants his ear back
cause I saved it for a souvenir that I told
everybody I got off a Jap
and he winked and grinned for the first time and got up from the table just


as Uncle Foster drove up. Don't hurt him, Joyce Anne said
he aint armed he's my only daddy, and he's a veteran
same as you. Not me, missy, the man said, you never met nobody
like me. Then he grabbed his fork off the table
and pulled Joyce Anne next to him and held her close with the fork
next to her face with pinto juice
still dripping off it so that when Uncle Foster came in
all he could think to say was just take it easy there
no need for anybody to get hurt
but the convict said mister you don't know squat about need, now
here's the way it goes how much gas you got
in that Jeep? Just filled it up said Uncle Foster. Okay then, no funny
business or I stab this fork in your dorter's
eyeball. She is a pretty freckled little thing
and I would not wish her no harm
but she will verify for me that I am one more mean motherfucker
and after I widen out that eye hole to a A-hole
I will stick my dick in it and shoot off in her brain pan
invite you watch. No, sir, no, sir, Uncle Foster said,
take the Jeep, take whatever else you need,
food, cigarettes, I got a carton of Luckies in the bedroom, and we,
I mean Joyce Anne has a jar full of
buffalo nickels and liberty dimes that her sainted mother left
her and you can have it, sir, isn't that right,
Angel?   And Joyce Anne said when he said that it was the first time
she wished he was dead and she said it too said daddy
why don't you just die
but the convict said now y'all the both
of you shut your yapping, which way is it
to Gastonia. Straight down Kesler Road, said Joyce Anne
runs right in front of the house, and when you get to 501 you can go
all the way to Myrtle Beach and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl.
The convict
pulled back a strand of her hair
and kissed her on the forehead. Wanna come with me, he said.
That is something I would dearly love, Joyce Anne said,
and she swore
she said this: but my daddy needs me.
I be John Brown, the convict said. You hear that, sir? You take care
of this one, and her pintos is just right, too.
And then he drew up to attention and gave Uncle Foster
a hand salute, holding it and holding
it like they do at military funerals.  And Uncle Foster answered with a kind of limp one
of his own
and the convict did an about face and just like that
he was gone. And Uncle Foster reached out to Joyce Anne saying
sugar babe please, you know I didn't mean it, would I
do such a thing to your mother
but Joyce Anne ran off
to the bedroom upstairs and slammed the door. And Uncle Foster
sat down at his regular place,
where the convict had made himself at home,
and he put his head back and cried, out loud, like a wounded animal,
like the way a warrior weeps after
battle, and then finally he went silent, and lowered his his head on his arms


and he was still there when Joyce Anne
came back downstairs to fix her daddy's plate, and the man on the radio went
right on with it,
about how before our great President Roosevelt died one of his congressmen gave
him a letter opener made
out of the forearm of a Japanese soldier and the President said this is
the kind of gift I like to get, and Joyce Anne said her daddy hardly touched the beans and he left
the biscuits too which he always had three of, and what about the corn, daddy, she said, you know
how you love cream corn, but Uncle Foster
just shook his head and mumbled over and over he was not no angel,
but while she had been upstairs Joyce Anne said, she was thinking
if a person really was a angel, would they know it?
Who would, daddy,
would you? And all the dead people in the war, who gets to
choose, daddy? And you never quit throwing mama up to me, was mama a angel, daddy,
and what about me you even call me a angel and there I was
ready to run away like a whore with that that criminal?   And Little Piggy, and Muley.
you think they don't think about it?  And who else daddy, who? And jeeps, jeeps, daddy what if the goddamn jeeps were angels too? And the tanks. And the B-29's?

And like that.

But Uncle Foster didn't try to answer.  Even when Joyce Anne put some honey and butter
on his biscuits, and freshened up his ice tea ...and then ...
the years rolled by …


and Nagasaki got rebuilt and Hiroshima,
and Russia got the bomb and then Korea split in two
then Kennedy and King and Viet Nam
and everything started tumbling and sliding down the hill
till Foster and just about
his whole generation had passed over, or anyway that was how Joyce Anne described it the last time
we got together for breakfast, on her 78th birthday,
at the old Waffle House over on U. S. 29,
and next thing I knew, without any warning, like in the blinking of an eye,
the bank had took over the farm
and Joyce Anne had moved in at the Brantley Nursing Home and Rehab Center out on Crisco Road,
near the high school where she graduated, not that she remembers much of anything,
not the senior prom
or the gauchos
or her daddy, or Gabriela
or the convict, or when she was a just little girl
and got baptized at The Lighthouse Church of The Redeemer,
or the names and faces now of her visitors, including
me. Gone, all gone. And sometimes I've sat there beside her bed
holding her hand and wished
for just a moment I could be in that world where she is and see what she sees.
But then last week, I stopped in on my way back
from Walmart and the Aide was taking her vitals and lo and behold
all of a sudden Joyce Anne
reached up and hugged her and said Oh I love you so much!
Well she sure knows you, I said.
No, sir, not me the Aide said, she talking to the others. I been working here six years.
mister, and way it is, I learn somebody's name one day and they gone the next.
It hardens a person's heart.
I go to church every Sunday, and I still
try to believe
I got a soul in this body,
but them inside of her they the real ones
they her angels.

Return to list of poems

James Lineberger is a retired screenwriter. My poetry has appeared in Boulevard; The Cortland Review; The Main Street Rag; UCity Review; Natural Bridge; Pembroke Magazine; Quarter After Eight; Free State Review; Sheila-Na-Gig, B O D Y; and New Ohio Review, where I won the 2017 Poetry Competition, judged by Rosanna Warren. 


Return to list of poems

copyright 2010-2019 ucity review