W. Todd Kaneko
When I return home from the war that summer, they’re looking for the Diamond. I know this because of that El Camino out front, that switchblade stuck in the coffee table, and you standing by the refrigerator in cut-off shorts and a tube top. My two uncles wonder why I’m not dead in Afghanistan. My mother cries because her boy is safe. You say, sorry about your dad. Later, out by the garage, we share a smoke and you say I’m handsome. I say, you’re my second cousin. You tell me that weird story about the gypsy who told my mother I’d be dead when that log in the fireplace turned to ash, how my mother extinguished the fire and hid that log so I would return safe from the desert. The world is dangerous and I know this because of the sirens in the distance, those kids smoking dope down the alley, all that blood and pink foam when I close my eyes at night. You say, I’m in trouble, so we jump in that El Camino and drive south towards your father’s house in Atlanta. We drive all night and into the next day with my uncles behind us because a man is the most vulnerable when he’s on the road with a woman, a woman whenever she’s with a man. We know this because of those two hitchhikers in their underwear, that doe bloodied and hobbling along the shoulder, your body twisting fitfully for a few hours at a Motel 6 while I dream about helicopters, snipers, and that Diamond the size of my thumb pad, eager to carve us all into pieces. When we arrive at your father’s house in the morning, we are greeted by smiles and pancakes and my uncles brandishing pistols. We know we’re in trouble because of their wet mustaches and your father’s corpse in the kitchen. The fight is quick: two broken teeth, that shattered TV screen, three gunshots, and my uncles sprawling on the floor. I drop the gun and call my mother to explain what happened, and she cries because her boy is safe. She tells me the story about the gypsy and will continue crying for years after she hangs up because the future should be predictable. You’re about to pull a gun on me. You’ve had the Diamond all along, and my mother is about to throw that log back on the fire. We’re about to fight, you with a broken neck, me with one bullet in my gut and another in my lung. I know these things because of that gorgeous snarl you wield, because the night outside is swampy and frantic, because once in Afghanistan, I was a soldier, the only one to survive a surprise attack on his unit. The medic said, It’s okay. You’re safe. The soldier said, no one is ever safe.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays and stories have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Barrelhouse, the Normal School, NANO Fiction, the Collagist, and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he co-edits Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches at Grand Valley State University. Find out more at toddkaneko.com or follow him on Twitter at