Last Days of War, Shrapnel, Rite of PassageIn the last days of the war—
a lone sign displays: No Iraq War
in the bookstore window. Lawn signs
have toppled; no protestors at the 4-way-stop.
Our only reminder—page five of the local
newspaper in small font: Three Alaskans Die in Iraq.
During these last days, when you and war
are old, you're called up. No ticker tape
or weeping relatives. No pomp, only
the circumstance—of knowing you're there
two weeks now and the phone rings—
the caller ID glows Fort Bening; I can't
breathe, can't answer the telephone's
green-lighted display, recalling the movies:
that black sedan's wheels crunching gravel,
the chaplains knock. Or that scene—collapsing
wife hanging onto spiral cord, phone clanking
the floor. I press your voice to my ear
and you tell me you're using a phone-card
rerouted to the U.S. so it doesn't show Kuwait.
And I don't tell you, that in a wavering
quarter-of-a-second, these last days of war
cracked into increments, breaking all known
laws of time and generals—I've seen your body,
silent in a flag draped coffin, blue field of flag
over your left shoulder, heard a fire of volleys,
felt your dog tags rolling between my fingers,
caught the scent of a fresh dirt hole.
The Huey hovered over the riverbank
like a black metal raven suspended
over grass. They were lit up by a flechette—
He's a WIA with a million dollar wound.
The bird set down—that trickster, a Dust Off—
The band-aid yells Got room for only four.
Eyes flashed across his brown skin,
averting his gaze—Saddle up boy,
looks like you gotta walk out. In olive drab,
KA-BAR ready, blending in with 100 shades
of green, he walked—steel splitting skin,
kept walking over one-step snakes
and Victor Charlie's blood trails through
silent orange killer, thick white fog
on the brush. You live in igloos boy?—
they laughed. Yes Sir—he lied. He closed his eyes
seeing glad bags on the ground, side by side—
the KIA, their blood reminding him
of gutting king salmon, his knife slicing
thick red meat, slabs of flesh on the table;
blood up to his elbows, scales sticking
to his forearms, glistening wet silver
catching light, reflecting ancient motion.
He kept walking through the jungle,
over muskeg to hemlock shores. Now
he dances under totems like a bear trudging
along the Ho Chi Minh trail in regalia,
beads shimmering, a black headband
catching rivulets of sweat, while his son
pounds the deer skin drum, beating
to his heart rhythm. With every movement,
shards of steel stab hot inside his thigh,
reminding him of his world, blended
and divided—olive drab and beads,
shrapnel and flesh, brown and white.
RITE OF PASSAGE
On the morning of August 9, 1945, despite military predictions of fair weather, Bockscar, a B-29 bomber, was unable to drop the Atom bomb, Fat Man, on the city of Kokura, Japan due to cloud cover—Nagasaki was the alternate target.
Shichigosan: A rite of passage for Japanese children.
Maybe a small boy is at his home in Kokura
dressed in his best kimono reciting prayers.
He knows Shin Tao: the way of the gods.
He is makote, true of heart, kneeling
at the Shelf of God. He is taught even the wishes
of an ant reach to heaven; believes kotodama,
his words raised up, contain souls, offers them
to Amaterasu— Sun Goddess,
on this cloudless morning. He prays the Goddess
will draw her brother, Susano, God of war
and storms, to pierce this fluid world, a spear
tucking clouds from east to west, folding
cloud-kami, pleating the sky like the paper
fighter-plane the boy constructed three days ago
in school while the teacher told them about
Hiroshima's bombing. From his window,
the boy watches clouds enfolding,
hears an engine drone, the propeller's
whump whump, circling three times above
the formless nimbus shrouding his city.
He glimpsed Amaterasu's messenger,
that dark raven cutting wings
through gray skies to flash a mirror
against the silver-sided plane, tricking
the dragon towards a distant sunrise.
At the altar, a few grains of rice;
he takes two low bows, rings a bell twice,
claps two times as he's seen his grandparents do.
He listens for the passage, the buzz,
narrowing—And in the silence he looks down,
sensing his world refolded; his paper war-toy
pressed into a flat diamond, his thin fingers
creasing it up and down, gathering points back
towards the center, and gently, he pulls
the wings apart, until in his hand he's holding—
a single white paper crane.