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William R. Soldan

That Night I Left Work with a Pocketful of Cash on Fire

and you went and fucked it up by taking a bullet
through your hand. You never watched
After School Specials, so never learned
not to do stupid shit. None of us did.
He’s in the ER, Juanita said, her voice
so flat and put-out, as if describing how the dog
had just pissed all over the rug again.

You’d been playing around with it,
.25 with the pearl grip and nickel finish,
lifted by some kid from the projects
from his grandma’s top drawer,
the way we did, passing it back and forth
in the lot by the tracks, killing time between
fathers and griefs.

You could still roll a damn fine joint
with your good hand bandaged,
its fingernails caked with dirt, the raw
and ragged hole, the rotten smell of it
like a body bloating in the sun, and after,
with the bones of your metacarpus
tenting upward, a miniature volcano
pressing against the puckered flesh.

It would never heal right, no feeling
but the dulling of dead tissue, the ghost
of the round ripping through it. It pulsed
with heat, you’d said of the night it had gone
off, like a glowing coal or a white-hot wire
stitched along your lifeline.

When the others came, later, penetrated
your breastplate with hot steel and black powder,
I imagined the birth of stars, a whole cosmos
swirling in your sternum. The Y-shaped incision
a question, a constellation.


William R. Soldan is the author of the story collections In Just the Right Light, Lost in the Furrows, and Houses Burning and Other Ruins, as well as the poetry collection So Fast, So Close and, most recently, the novel Undone Valley. You can find him on Twitter @RustWriter1 if you'd like to connect. He currently lives in Youngstown, OH, with his wife and two children.


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