“Short Straw,” a poem by Ron Smith.

“His brawny friend kept twisting the head, moaning softly…”
Reenactor, WWI. Photo by Chad Hunt, from the photo essay “Reenactors,” in this issue

Short Straw


Why was that the thing that haunted him

seventy years? Guard duty, whispering,

drawing straws. His strapping friend putting

aside the Springfield, charging the shadow —

thrashing in the dark, grunts, then the groan,

sickening snap, and my father, eighteen,

tried to pull his friend off the tiny man. “He’s

gone, Sammy,” he hissed, “he’s done, let him go!”

But his brawny friend kept twisting the head,

moaning softly. Given the men he’d personally

dropped, the colonel with his guts in his lap,

gold teeth pried from the gaping, stinking dead,

why was that the thing that choked him up,

that made him flinch away from you and me?


Ron Smith is a former Poet Laureate of Virginia. Currently Writer-in-Residence at Saint Christopher’s School in Richmond, he is the author of the books Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery (University Press of Florida) and three books from LSU Press: Moon Road, Its Ghostly Workshop, and The Humility of the Brutes. In 2018 he was a Featured Poet at the American Library in Paris, where he also read new poems in the Salon Eiffel on the Eiffel Tower.