Too Close to the Screen

As if it would lay soft the news,
the words come out quiet and low.
As if it would still the turmoil,
the words come sadly, solemnly.

But the knowing is loud and harsh:
someone in your life, in your world
has just violently met death.

Images then flash very clear.
First a snapshot, a posed portrait
taken during the peaceful past.

Inexorably connected
comes an unflickering movie
from unbidden imaginings
showing the drama's final scenes.

Growing up, I watched too many:

A neighbor kid falling, dying
with a rifle in the dawn's light.

My history teacher's husband
stopping his pain with a pistol.

My dad hearing in the deep night
his niece had slammed into a bridge.

Guy who helped me learn to bike ride
barracading himself at home,
putting a bullet through his skull.

The father of a guy I knew
using a shotgun muzzle up.

But of all the movies I watched,
there was one, a singular one,
where I sat too close to the screen.

* * *

I couldn't really say we were friends
but he was friendly, popular;
maybe two years older than me.

We were in the same study hall
where his desk sat in front of mine.
I knew well the back of his head.

One Monday morning the news spread,
the story echoing, swirling,
moving frantically 'round the school.

he was on a road trip to a
college campus with a bunch of
guys they'd been drinking a lot of
beer they passed some girls and he leaned
way out the back window to yell
and wave at them the driver drove
too close to a telephone pole

Like the other deaths I'd heard of,
the other violent endings,
I saw a smiling photograph
then watched that last jarring moment.

But this movie lasted longer
'cause I'd come in on the same scene
when I'd glance up in study hall
and find myself overlaying
versions of the back of his head.

Harry W. Yeatts Jr.