Shorty had a curse word for the world stuck in his throat that even the sweetest Boone’s Farm strawberry wine couldn’t wash down. A curse word he slurred effortlessly at everyone who walked down his block of Wayne Street. And it truly was his. While Annette Strauss was the mayor of the city of Dallas, Shorty was the mayor of the 1800 block of Wayne Street.
“You don’t know nothing about no damn dominoes, so step off, youngster.”
“That has got to be the ugliest damn dog on this whole planet.”
“Mr. Ice Cream man! There ain’t no reason to be playing that music that damn loud!”
While just about everybody I knew had only harsh words for Shorty, he made me smile. One unforgiving summer day, he said to Felipe, Aída, and me, “Just call me the bus driver, ’cause I’m taking all y’all to school!” as he slammed the queen of spades onto the small foldout table in his front yard. “Long live the queen,” I said right before I asked if I could use his bathroom. “Go on, damn it, but bring me back a Miller High Life from the fridge on your way back.”
The beer was cold in my palm. As I walked back through his living room, a framed photograph caught my eye, a handsome man in a Marine Corps uniform. Impossibly young. The shoulders of a soldier. The face of a teenager. The death notification letter and the flag folded into a perfect triangle next to the photo were also framed.
The screen door creaked as I opened it. “Damn, you is one slow young man.” I smiled at Shorty as I handed him the beer, which only made him curse me more under his breath. I knew now why he sought solace in the bottom of a bottle, why he had a curse word for everyone and everything, why he was at war with the world. There are casualties of war in far-off foreign deserts. And there are casualties here, too, in my city, with nothing but ice-cold beers and tightly folded flags to hold onto.
Joaquín Zihuatanejo received his M.F.A. in creative writing with a concentration in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. His work has been featured in Prairie Schooner, Sonora Review, and Huizache, and his poetry has been featured on HBO, NBC, and NPR. He was the winner of the Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize for Poetry, and his new book, Arsonist, was published by Anhinga Press in September 2018.