I can’t not think about a throat
when I remember that drainage pipe
under Iowa street, its corrugated gray
rings like muscles made for swallowing.
When the playground wars bled
into after school, we were tunnel
rats, imagining ourselves the young
uncles and older cousins back
not long ago from Nam, grasshoppers
big as clothespins lifting off from tall grass.
On television Ollie North murmured
voodoo from a face handsome
as varnished wood into a cluster
of microphones. Amid the wars,
we found a briefcase sitting
in the dark green stain left in the bottom
of the culvert pipe by standing water. We knew
it was drug money. We all watched Miami Vice.
All that fall my father painted houses
for cash, and I spent Saturdays
scraping flakes of old paint from neighborhood
clapboards, watching curls of faded color
fall across my sunburned hand and land
in the grass around cracked foundations.
We could have used a briefcase full of money.
Prying at the locked case with dirty fingers,
we heard a bang, scrabbled
ass-backwards up the gravel bank, running
scattershot back to our little rooms
at the rear of little, ramshackle houses,
sure that someone was shooting at us.
We didn’t go back to the culvert
for weeks, but that night and many
to follow, I dreamed about that briefcase,
thin and brown with a row of rolling gold
numbers for a lock on top, the kind
of thing any of our fathers might
have carried to work, if they’d ever
had that kind of job.