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PAINTING THE FENCE / David Romtvedt I was going to say I thought of that monk again, the one burning himself to death in Saigon. But the truth is I did not think of him, I saw him. The monk is dead but the smallest thing brings him home. I am painting the fence beside the garden. First I scrape the old paint away. Huge flakes faU from the boards and land in the dirt. Then I spread the new paint on the raw boards. Drops of oU-based primer mottle the leaves of lettuce at my feet. Finished, I walk to the garage and unscrew the lid to the gasoUne I use as paint thinner. The odor fiUs my nose. As if a burning match had been thrown into my open mouth, I gulp it down and choke. I cough again and again, hacking, trying to pull up whatever is blocking my breath. Here is the monk, pounding me on the back, assuring me TU be fine, this is my grandest moment, wrapped in smoke, my hands waving flames as tears roU down my face. The Missouri Review · 269 WELCOME / David Romtvedt Strangers do not wish to hear of a stranger's Ufe. Houses have waUs to keep them apart. The interstate highway skirts the edge of town or goes around in a great looping curve. The drivers pass one another with windows roUed up and music playing loudly. When the weather is unbearably sweet, the people come out and sit alone in their yards, basking in the sun and enjoying drinks they have made cold with ice. It is lovely. I walk through the alleys, amidst the spilled garbage cans, the oUspots in the dust, the birds and squirrels torn apart by domestic cats, the old jeeps propped up on blocks. Someone has built a fence around her garden and hanging from it are onions drying in the sun, hundreds of white onions, large as grapefruit. They smeU strong as trees with their tops spiUed over and mottled brown and green. I want to tell the gardener what pleasure they give me so step through the yard and knock on the back door. "Excuse me," I practice, "I was passing and ..." Or "Hello, I live down the block ..." Or "Your onions! They ..." I knock again but no one comes. I leave, looking once more at the fence and the onions inviting me to bend and touch them in caress. 270 · The Missouri Review MY FLAME / David Romtvedt My finger rests motionless for a moment above the flame, then I jerk it away. It is painful; the fire is hot. How do those thin men in India walk across beds of coals? I puU my cigarette from my mouth and watch the smoke pour away from me, the heat running to get as far as it can from my body. I flick the ash and touch the glowing ember to the soft skin on my forearm. That hurts, too. I can burn the hair on the back of my arm. It curls and stinks, leaving my arm smooth and pale. The hair is me but does not hurt. The skin hurts a great deal. This time I press the burning cigarette hard into the skin. My eyes water. I press it again and again—both forearms, my cheeks, three dark holes under my eyes, I am burning myself in small ways. How do those men do it? Not the Indians but the monks, those Buddhists, those Vietnamese. One man sat down in the center of a Saigon street. A second man, a feUow monk, poured gasoUne over the first who then carefully set a burning match against his faded orange robes. The flames shot forth, knocking people off the sidewalk, knocking the second monk down, knocking the Swedish rifle I carry out of my arms. The flames shoot farther, hotter, brighter, shoot to Heaven. The Missouri Review · 272 MY WIFE / David Romtvedt I am my wife's husband. I belong to her. When we part for a day, it takes another to catch up on our talk. When we look at our daughter, we smUe and hold each other in...


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pp. 169-175
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