Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped and brittle. I can't bring my father back. Legs crossed, he sits there brash with a private's stripe, a world away from the war they would ship him to within days. Cannons flank his face and banners above him like the flag my mother kept on the mantel, folded tight, white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue. I remember his fists, the iron he pounded, five-pound hammer ringing steel, the frame he made for a sled that winter before the war. I remember the rope in his fist around my chest, his other fist shoving the snow, and downhill we dived, his boots by my boots on the tongue, pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinking and squealing. I remember the troop train, steam billowing like a smoke screen. I remember wrecking the sled weeks later and pounding to beat the iron flat, but it stayed there bent and stacked in the barn by the anvil, and I can't bring him back.
A young man learns to shoot & dies in the mud an ocean away from home, a rifle in his fingers & the sky dripping from his heart. Next to him a friend watches his final breath slip ragged into the ditch, a thing the friend will carry back to America— wound, souvenir, backstory. He’ll teach literature to young people for 40 years. He’ll coach his daughters’ softball teams. Root for Red Wings & Lions & Tigers. Dance well. Love generously. He’ll be quick with a joke & firm with handshakes. He’ll rarely talk about the war. If asked he’ll tell you instead his favorite story: Odysseus escaping from the Cyclops with a bad pun & good wine & a sharp stick. It’s about buying time & making do, he’ll say. It’s about doing what it takes to get home, & you see he has been talking about the war all along. We all want the same thing from this world: Call me nobody. Let me live.