• Auther image




    Few of us can say they knew someone who fought in WWI. Tuesday, May 8, 1945, VE Day, when war ended in Europe for the second time in a quarter century, my mother rushed me out of the apartment to join a mass of people, who cheered as soldiers from WWI paraded down Main Street. My grand-uncle George, who fought in WWI and suffered the long effects of being gassed, had recently died. A couple years later our neighbor Mr. White, a WWI vet, France in 1917, gave me his gas mask, jacket and helmet. I still have his jacket; it’s over 100 years old.




    You ask when’d my son gone off to war—, well, after we stopped schoolin’ kids, there’d been a last one; after the limbless and deaf that’d served . . ., dropped dead; after mums and dads who’d lost boys, grow’d old and passed—after all ’minders of the last un’ was forgot; after the pockmarked, lumpy fields that staked Jesus crosses in a weed-ridden patch lost traces, of a no-man’s-land betwixt windin’ trenches below fields of spiny trunks, craters the size of babies, the stink of phosgene and chlorine—; where dogs no more go and birds no more sing—.
    That’s when.



    Château Wood near Hooge, 29 October 1917

    In the winter of 1917 foes faced two sides of Sisyphus. Trenches by day, no man’s land by night, when they hazarded into mortars, bullets, and gas that filled the void, when life left breathing could swallow the deadly dark in an endless cycle of terror and the question, “Are you ready men?”



    Morning yesterday morning dew
    Ethering dawn appears anew
    Rolling over marshy bogs
    Suspended over fallen logs
    Vesicants seem ethereal
    The smells seem so funereal
    Gas, gas, gas

    Falling into the gray abyss
    Collapsing into earth’s open kiss
    Coughing puking stinking mire
    Slimy sweat, my lungs’ afire,
    Where’s the air, where’s the mask
    Where’s the chaplain, dare I ask
    Gas, gas, gas

    Never had a kid— or pretty wife,
    Want one last gasp to savor life
    To say goodbyes ’fore I go
    To lower the flag, the pipes to blow
    To hear the drummer’s roll, I fall
    Face down choking in a muddy pall
    Gas, gas, gas




    Requiem, Uncle George, France 1918


    In the dark
    of winter days,
    he lays a lily
    for his Rose
    beneath crossed poles
    in a winter
    that cycled back like a hungry dog.

    A child still born,
    en hiver as they say,
    passed unhurried;
    it snowed
    in a winter
    that cycled back like a hungry dog.

    until spring,
    when Mademoiselle
    danced, Rouen
    to Moulin Rouge,
    in a winter
    that cycled back like a hungry dog.

    Her head in her skirt,
    legs in the air—,
    until, over there,
    elle est morte d’être gazés.
    over there,
    in a winter
    that cycled back like a hungry dog.

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