The War After the War

Debora Greger

 
                     for Greg Greger
I
Where were the neighbors? Out of town?
In my pajamas, I sat at my father's feet
in front of their squat, myopic television,
the first in our neighborhood.
On a screen the size of a salad plate,
toy airplanes droned over quilted fields.
Bouquets of jellyfish fell: parachutes abloom,
gray toy soldiers drifting together, drifting apart—
the way families do, but I didn't know that yet.
I was six or seven. The tv was an aquarium:
steely fish fell from the belly of a plane,
then burst into flame when they hit bottom.
A dollhouse surrendered a wall, the way such houses do.
Furniture hung onto wallpaper for dear life.
Down in the crumble of what had been a street,
women tore brick from brick, filling a baby carriage.
II
What was my young father,
just a few years back from that war,
looking for? The farm boy from Nebraska
he'd been before he'd seen Dachau?
Next door, my brother and sister fought
the Battle of Bedtime, bath by bath.
Next door, in the living room,
a two-tone cowboy lay where he fell,
too bowlegged to stand. Where was his horse?
And the Indian who'd come apart at the waist—
where were his legs to be found?
A fireman, licorice-red from helmet to boot,
a coil of white rope slung over his arm
like a mint Lifesaver, tried to help.
A few inches of ladder crawled under a cushion,
looking for crumbs. Between the sag of couch
and the slump of rocker, past a pickle-green soldier,
a plastic foxhole, cocoa brown, dug itself
into the rug of no man's land
and waited to trip my mother.
III
Am I the oldest one here? In the theater,
the air of expectation soured by mouse and mold—
in the dark, a constellation of postage stamps:
the screens of cell phones glow.
And then we were in Algiers, we were in Marseille.
On foot, we fell in behind a ragged file
of North African infantry. Farther north
than they'd ever been, we trudged
straight into the arms of the enemy:
winter, 1944. Why did the French want to live in France,
the youngest wondered while they hid,
waiting capture by the cold.
They relieved a dead German soldier
of greatcoat and boots. Village by muddy village,
they stole, shadow to shadow, trying to last
until the Americans arrived—
as if, just out of range of the lens,
the open trucks of my father's unit
would rumble over the rutted horizon.
Good with a rifle, a farsighted farm boy
made company clerk because he'd learned to type
in high school—how young he would look,
not half my age, and no one to tell him
he'll survive those months in Europe,
he'll be spared the Pacific by Hiroshima.
Fifty years from then, one evening,
from the drawer where he kept
the tv remote, next to his flint-knapping tools,
he'd take out a small gray notebook
and show his eldest daughter
how, in pencil, in tiny hurried script,
he kept the names of those who died around him.
 
Copyright © 2010 by Debora Greger. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

The Vacant Lot at the End of the Street by Debora Greger
Battleships melted down into clouds


Further Reading

Poems About War
Henry V, Act III, Scene I [One more unto the breach, dear friends]
by William Shakespeare
The Iliad, Book I, Lines 1-15
by Homer
War Music [Down on your knees, Achilles]
by Christopher Logue
A Wedding at Cana, Lebanon, 2007
by Tom Sleigh
April 27, 1937
by Timothy Steele
At Bay
by Carl Phillips
Bagram, Afghanistan, 2002
by Marvin Bell
Before the Deployment
by Jehanne Dubrow
Death Fugue
by Paul Celan
Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Eighth Air Force
by Randall Jarrell
For the Fallen
by Laurence Binyon
For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell
Forms of Range and Loathing
by Ruth Ellen Kocher
Grass
by Carl Sandburg
I Have a Rendezvous with Death
by Alan Seeger
I Hear an Army
by James Joyce
i sing of Olaf glad and big
by E. E. Cummings
Memorial Day for the War Dead
by Yehuda Amichai
Mosul
by David Hernandez
My Father on His Shield
by Walt McDonald
Peace
by Henry Vaughan
Peace
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Phantom Noise
by Brian Turner
Poems about War
Romance
by Charles Reznikoff
Ships That Pass in the Night
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Spoken From the Hedgerows
by Jorie Graham
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
by Julia Ward Howe
The Coming of War: Actæon
by Ezra Pound
The Czar's Last Christmas Letter: A Barn in the Urals
by Norman Dubie
The Fall of Rome
by W. H. Auden
The Long Deployment
by Jehanne Dubrow
The Mask of Anarchy [Excerpt]
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The War Works Hard
by Dunya Mikhail
The Wound-Dresser
by Walt Whitman
Untitled [1950 June 27]
by Don Mee Choi
Veterans of Foreign Wars
by Edward Hirsch
War and Hell, XVI [I am a great inventor]
by Ernest Crosby
War Is Kind [excerpt]
by Stephen Crane
War Rug
by Henri Cole
Web Prayer for Milosz
by David Wojahn