I witnessed nothing
to speak of because
we were Free.

My life at four was the same
as at three. Then whispers wound
into my ears, or,

Father never whispered–
he gave me fire to breathe–
all the oxygen lit the room,

burning me up until my breath
writhed in the body’s drum.
Nothing changed but my mind.



I have a sense of him having said–
to Mother? a Soldier?–
something, but recall

none of the words,
only a sentence ending,
susurrous, in a hiss.

I froze. Put together
the words were menacing, sneak-
attacks, after which fear

riddled me day and night
like bullets. I have never not lived
with the fact of having heard,



the tear in me trauma
rent when I secreted
zero at the bone.

Father was high up–I never got
his echelon straight before the war
was over–but he was someone

who knew things
done to whom by whom
and when I snuck to the door

to listen the sound words
made was lightning flashed
right into my skull.

Originally published in Shenandoah. Copyright © 2019 by Cynthia Hogue. Used with the permission of the poet.