Tatters of dinette chairs flap in the Gulf breeze.
Like an island’s backside,
suburban bungalow, pink with sun,
private side of conches and radishes.
Owner and occupant, survivor,
outlives wife, sister, lives
to tell the story again and again
of barbaric Japs on a Pacific
island, two week mission
drawn out over months,
long beyond strategy,
mired in rote maneuver, headless
torsos, rotting wounded,
military brass losing interest.
The old man, then nineteen,
lost there whatever youth he had
coming to him.
He borrowed a watch from
one of the corpses
as a souvenir, inherits it back
when his mother dies, naturally,
of Camels and a broken heart.
Almost too late, an interviewer
asks all about it. The old man,
fingers on the kitchen faucet,
tells about the battle, details
he laughed around for decades.
At work, he managed a theater,
another water spectacular
where the stage revolved,
spun on the ocean like a
top of dreams.
Guy Lombardo, loyal Canadian,
led the band afterwards
under the tent, under the stars,
and the Schaefer flowed.
The old man writes a book
about going back to Brooklyn,
visiting his dead buddy’s family,
describing to them the quiet death
he didn’t have,
sparing them details
no civilian could bear.
The book stirs a little interest,
Hollywood consults, documentary
cameos, but it doesn’t last.
There are too many stories in this world
for our innocent audience to
linger long over one. The old man
sinks into the archives, where his war
is one of thousands.
He still keeps a neat house,
pool cemented over, dolphins
parading the canal two shows a day.
The sun pounds the sofa.
Pink carpet fades where
windows have their way.
We watch a DVD where he
and others tell their stories,
for once backed up by
newly found footage,
military cameras sent to
record victory, instead see
butchered bodies, men dancing
hysterics, lost in deranged performance.
The old man remarks,
“What do the kids say now?
‘Thanks for your service’?”
I nod, no better response
than that well-meaning,
knee jerk platitude suggested
by a lollipop media that still can’t
grasp the depth of the experience.
If service is productive, meaningful,
something built where there was less,
then his time in Pacific was a service.
Did he intend to serve his country?
Only propaganda films,
patriotic melodramas aim that high.
Leaving the stickball, the pretty girls
behind in the wild youth of Brooklyn,
he enlisted, hoping for a better time
than those that waited to be drafted.
What he got was gore no film could capture.
What he got was a watch whose time
had stopped in Peleliu,
gears ground to a solid halt