Memento Mori

There are some things too sacred to teach
but, tonight, I’m home from war & the butcher

demonstrates the perfect cut: medallions
of Iberico so thin I can see the silvered blade

through each sliver. He buries bone spike in hock,
lifts calla to his nose, claims to smell the acorns

on which it feasted, the trees’ roots, the black lake
from which the hog drank. I’ll believe anything.

In a country I’ll never see, tribesman turn corpses
into wine: particles of bone picked from the ashes

of cremation fires, ground with corn; the body
rests in the simple box of another’s body.

Once, I watched a coroner prep an open casket
for a soldier. He trimmed the hair, cut short

the fingernails, washed the skin. Because war breaks
the hearts of men, I no longer believe

dirt deserves our dead. When only bone remains,
the butcher says, find the bluest vein & drink.

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Iowa, served four years in the United States Navy (Operation Enduring Freedom), and is a graduate of the MFA program at Hollins University. His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, Guernica, The Journal, Cream City Review, and 32 Poems, among many others. His book, The Grief Muscles, is forthcoming from The Sheep Meadow Press. Thrush Press published his chapbook, Improvised Devices. He is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.