My Father’s War

My Father’s War

Mrs. McLeod is proud, it says,
of her three boys serving overseas.
And the uniformed brothers
smile from grainy newsprint.
They’re happy; she’s proud;
Canada’s at war.

The youngest follows muddy tracks,
practices hostility with other lads
under drizzling Scottish grey until,
fortified by cigarettes and warm beer,
they voyage south in thundering armour
to deliver their portion of war.

Grammichele
should be a generous, smiling woman
who pours out wine and offers exotic food
under cerulean sky.
But instead of her warm embrace,
they roll into another’s open arms.

Shells penetrate the impenetrable
and fragments ricochet
with malicious inaccuracy.
Metal embeds itself
in the smiling Canadian teenager.
The others leave him as certainly dead,
but with agonizing clarity
he knows he lives
and he climbs out slowly into the storm.
He sits and watches, a bleeding spectator.

Lifetimes later, in days of black depression,
he’ll say he’s had the dream again,
about the tank.

Angels deliver him to another kind of Hell,
a sweltering infirmary
where the wounds knit but the body unravels
month after month after month.
He is simply declared too stubborn to die.

One year on the newsprint crows:
First Wounded to Return.
In celebratory mood
they assemble at the station,
brass band and dignitaries
to salute the brave young man.
But it’s been a thousand years for him.
Bugger them, he says
getting off one stop too soon.
And he walks home alone.
At least, that’s what he wishes he’d done.

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