The filmmakers knew about the nuclear tests but the federal government
reassured residents that the tests caused no hazard to public health.
By the end of the movie, John Wayne’s lungs
will have burned through his armor. The director’s chair,
left out in the rain, will look as if
it has fever dreamed, and the director,
home by then in Los Angeles, will dream a heaviness
dropping from the sky. As it nears land,
he will wake to an idea regarding cause and effect:
the end does not stand still
but rises all around the place where it falls.
By the credits’ last words, everyone
will have lost their breath.
A strand of blonde hair will have clung
to a stylist’s discarded black smock,
and her black shadow, also discarded in Utah,
will grow so long and thin with trying to walk away
it snaps. From an army base in Kentucky,
my young father will watch this film skeptically.
After chowtime, the pursed mouth of Susan Hayworth
will whimper, save me. While my father drinks
in the celluloid-lit darkness
a cold glass of water, John Wayne
will become the golden face of ancient history. Later,
my father will stand rigid before his sergeant
and note the lines of the man’s under-eyes.
He will think loyalty isn’t really all that cinematic,
but rather, cracked, like a dishrag
left to harden over a fence. By the end
of the movie, my father will stare into a polished mirror,
flash to a photograph he once saw of the dead
and dying horses on the beach of Normandy just twelve years before.
(Sand fleas hopping on the horses’ eyes.
Eyes that end when gazing at one, white sky.)
So many cast and crewmembers with terminal cancers
will drink from the same cold glass
as my young father. My father will outlive them,
though he might ask later, for what. (To understand better
the gun he talks to, or the bombs sleeping
inside their aluminum drums? To grow familiar with
the clouds and sound that fill the air, having gotten there
not from above, but from within?)
By the end of the movie, it will be the dirt
under the actor’s nails that hums
well after their passing. When only my father and I are left
in a backyard in a small town where he’s retired,
I’ll think about the rain’s angle, sip my wine, stay quiet.
In the conversation we’ll never have,
I’ll tell him not to look too long at whatever remains.
But he won’t hear clearly, and will ask me to speak
again, louder this time. This time,
to pull a curtain over that bright cage.
This time, to make the horses go away.