|Apr/May 2008 Poetry|
What My Father Sent Back from the Pacific
It was an island fifteen hundred miles from Japan.
It was the place from which the Enola Gay took off.
My father was a Seabee. He spent two years there,
helping to build enormously long airstrips for the B-29s.
During those two years he would send home packages
and wooden boxes containing souvenirs he had found.
To my little sister he sent a dolls' porcelain tea set
discovered in what was left of an abandoned house.
To my mother, a relish dish with a mouse on the cover.
To my older brother, a tiny airplane carved from coral.
One box contained dies made from brass shell casings
that had been melted down by one of his tent-mates.
Into this mold my brother and I poured plaster of Paris.
Out came a statue of a smiling Buddha with a peaked hat.
Finally, he sent shells that he had gathered on the beaches.
Alone, during his Sundays off, he became a beachcomber.
He shipped at least three cubic feet of seashells in a box
that had originally contained machine-gun ammunition.
Whelks, tritons, scallops, cone shells, cats' eyes,
and a myriad of cowries spotted like leopards and ocelots.
My brother and I spread them out on the kitchen floor
and imagined they were warships in endless formations.
Over the years most of them ended up broken or lost.
I keep the last survivors in a large-mouthed two-quart jar.
The rusty metal lid is almost impossible to remove now.
Within—the pink coral, the opalescence, the shadowy whorls.
My father never spoke of the Enola Gay or its mission.
Only of the wide beaches and the endlessly incoming waves.
Turning to Stone
A stone man, everyone said,
a man slowly turning to stone,
in a house with drawn curtains,
in the town where I grew up.
A man turning into stone,
who could not get out of bed,
waited on by a faithful wife,
his children silent and morose.
I knew the place. I walked by it
on the way to school. House
of utter stillness. Inside, a man
whose body was turning to stone.
Shades always closed, no one
ever looking out the window.
How could this be—to spend
all of your life in a back room?
To be unmoved, unchanged,
never to walk about again,
never to feel another's touch?
None of it seemed possible.
Dark dreams came to me then,
of the place under the bridge
on the way home from school,
not far from the silent house.
Vision of a man standing
in the shadows, and the water
ceasing to flow. I am rooted,
I cannot flee up the steep bank.
Man with a visage of stone,
nightshirt frozen, the hand
that reaches out unyielding,
the moment turning to stone.
I fear you, impenetrable man
whose name I never learned,
father of the silent children,
there in your darkened room.
I fear being unable to change
or to perceive the other. I fear
immobility, in the shadows,
by the waters that do not flow.