The Volunteer


At first I tried to be aloof, standing in attendance bland as a briefcase.
When I could not disappear my humanity, I tried being amiable,
as though good cheer were an argument for existence.
Then I decided that my existence would have to be its own argument:
a person, more or less like other people, with the exception
of the the detonator nestled beneath a ventricle.
I am his constant companion, more reliable than the average shadow.
Agendaless, without affiliation, I am merely a container
the correct shape for its cargo,
like the hollow plastic onions they sell at the grocery, for storing half-used onions.
The knife that hangs at my side, once unsheathed, is long enough to cross oceans.
It is not that he is an unkind or difficult man. We talk sometimes
about the places we grew up, or about football, its intricacies
giving our conversation the illusion of substance.
Duty sits between us like a dog of unknown temperament.
Roger Fisher, a law professor and negotiation specialist, wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (March, 1981) on how to prevent nuclear war: “Put that needed [nuclear launch] code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being.”


Amanda Hope