The Conqueror, 1956

              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.