Friday, May 18, 2012

War Crayons

Dick and Jane, Sally and Spot, were real to me
            in a way that war was not.  Even Puff
was more compelling than the strange figure
            dressed in red, white, and blue,
his finger pointing directly at me, his effort
            to incriminate those who refused
to save their pennies for war bonds.

I don't remember our teacher talking of war
            or any of my friends sobbing
for lost fathers.  I looked at the maps in the paper
            not because they represented definite places
but because they were the first maps I had ever seen.
            My six-year-old life was a Puff world. flimsy,
no real meaning beyond its ball of yarn.

I wonder now how scared my young mother
            must have been when my dad
boarded the bus for Leavenworth, the draft
            looming like the Hindenburg
on all that they could see.  Unable to drive,
            living two hours from family.
she must have felt her world in its final shift.

And when he returned, rejected, color blind,
            what were the emotions I never saw?
Her relief riding his sense of incompletion,
            their combined guilt, fingered
by communal patriotism and disguised
            jealousy that they had been released
from  the journey they need not make.

I would move on to second grade fictions
            amid Spam sandwiches on homemade
dinner rolls, cars and trucks with ration letters,
            oblivious to scarcity, emotions
just below the surface in other homes. The war
            was an olive green blur  beyond
the rims of my unperceiving eyes, closed ears.

I had no idea that other children were herded
            on box cars, handled like the cattle we would
later own, steers we would ship to the packing
            house on a Sunday evening. for Monday
slaughter. Dresden, Aushwitz, Hiroshima were names
            I'd wait a decade to learn, a lifetime
to understand. Bodies to smoke. I'd never grasp.

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