In his starched uniform, with his
shoulders holding the weight of 30
other men in a platoon…
he is not a grandfather.
He is a cog, with edges clinking
smoothly into the Great Machine.
Every spit of tobacco on rice-paddy
floors leaves a bloodstain.
A heart is a rifle, firing
haphazardly into the darkness of
these jungles which nurture a
humid hunger. His heart is napalm.
burning and hurting and consuming
his chest; all’s that’s left to feel is
the fear of this faceless enemy.
What shadows he sees, beckons
With the smell of singeing men,
covered in oil and agony—
the screams lead him closer to an
ocean. He wants to go home, but
every cog propels the Great Machine
and his son might be born without
It’s almost as much of a tragedy
as the man who falls into his
life-taking hands (their faces he fights
to forget) His body is a phoenix,
half ash and man and beats, slow-
he shudders through a nightmare,
but never wakes up.
Eyes as ghosts
carry the memory of bodies,
empty of personality save for a
small whisper that they were once
more than cogs, more than human.
Lips more pricked than roses
forgetting his name but remembering
Johnny’s—whose sister fortified into
a shell when her only brother saw
himself lifted into the air and
spread out over a country he
couldn’t even pronounce.
They say Johnny
didn’t even feel the heat of the
gone too soon, baby eyes lifted
skyward and repented
At 76, my grandfather is a great
warrior, fighting a battle he doesn’t
know exists. He doesn’t remember how
to tie his shoes, the touch of his lover’s
soft fingers on his back, or that he had
a son at all before the war.
He sits in his chair, examining a
wall, playing pictures only cogs
will never stop spinning into view.
At 76, my grandfather is a survivor
who has finally forgotten
all of our names.