The German soldier waited,
knife in his filthy hand
tapping a dirge on the stone wall,
and when my grandfather eased past
the corner of the building
the German lunged,
arm pounding mechanically --
driving the blade into toughened meat.
My grandfather swung his gun around,
knocking the attacker to the ground,
then shot him in the forehead.
After stripping the dead man of papers,
Luger and dagger,
he hurried off to find a medic.
This is how I believed the scars,
shining like ten skinny maggots,
found their way to my grandfather’s
shoulder. He never told me the real story,
never gave the wounds any words,
only said he hoped I never
had to see a war.
But the little slits called to me,
begging me to place an ear near his naked back
and let their whispers burrow
into my imagination.
He would kill you
if you touched him
as he slept. Spring up
and send the Max Brand
or Zane Grey paperback,
splayed across his chest,
flapping at spine-breaking speed
into the wall--desperados
and Indians were his release
from the Luftwaffe
and Blitzkrieg. His massive
frame poised to crush
the Iron Cross shining
through the fog on every breast.
Those French nights
of sleeping with open eyes,
and a six pack ready
to snap him into action,
turned my grandfather into a man
who had no dreams.
Stick and Frye Funeral Home
had been in business forever,
it seemed, handling the town’s
special needs with quiet care.
When I lived with my grandparents,
my grandfather, a large, crusty
WWII sergeant-turned-brick mason
would answer our phone,
“Hello, Stick and Frye Funeral Home,
you stick’em, we fry’em.” My face flushed,
turned hot enough to heat up whoever
was on the other end, leaving me praying
for the use of Mr. Stick’s fine services. It was
nearly impossible for me to be somber
at any funeral there, until I was an adult.
I just could not look at those gathered,
or the one they gathered for,
without hearing my grandfather’s voice
answering our phone, over and over.