when he spoke, he squinted
his eyes in concentration,
valiantly failing to grapple with
the elusive sounds, the vowels
and rolls of dead foreign tongues.
in his frustration, he did not sin,
however (at least, i don't think he
did); instead, he struggled through
the benediction, waving his curled
and aging hand in a blessing
that one billion cherished.
the last time he tried to perform
this most-appreciated service,
(i could see the hole where the
surgeons tried to forestall his
sure decline) he strained to
make sound, and could not
even whisper a prayer for mercy.
i saw the grief in his eyes, as this
last gift was no longer his to give.
i saw the pain as he tried again to
speak, as his throat seemed to
constrict, and he rolled his head
toward heaven--his eyes pleading
with the firmament--as if to beg, or to
accuse. ("my God, my God...")
then he blessed the crowd and
disappeared behind the scarlet drape.
that was the last time i ever saw him
living. and though i'm not of his
flock, i joined them in sorrow. even
now, i remember his eyes, his
despair, as his life ebbed so far that
he could not even give voice to
suffering, and i pray in his stead.
("God save the people.")
in the thoroughfare
lined on each side with
high-rises and shops, with
cheering masses filling
cracked sidewalks, the
sailor danced along the yellow line,
still wearing his uniform.
she walked out of the hospital,
her shift not yet finished,
when she heard the news.
her uniform and stockings
a snowdrift on the backdrop of
blacktop and skyscraper and
when he saw her, he did not think
of propriety, or dignity, or even
sex, though some accused him
of it later. he saw another free citizen,
enraptured in the news of peace
conquering war. a beautiful symbol of
home. (admittedly, her lips may have
played a small factor in his decision.)
when he kissed her, sweeping her back
in his exuberant embrace, she didn't
worry about what her friends would
say, or what his name was, or whether
her parents would see. she allowed herself
to be caught up in the celebration of victory,
in the relief of returning to a world without
casualties or rationing or grieving mothers
holding faded telegrams.
when the photographer snapped the picture,
he didn't worry about politics, or viewpoints,
or whether the other side was
unfairly portrayed. these thoughts faded
into the cheers of the crowd who had just heard
the news that the boys were coming home.
his photograph was perhaps
an indication of the kind of welcome
the boys returning would receive.
my shoulder itches. not
in a constant, steady sensation
that i could learn to ignore,
but in a sinister intermittence,
catching my mind at odd
moments and taking up my attention.
i can't scratch for another two weeks,
after the doctor takes the stitches out
and checks to make sure the wound
closed up properly.
my mind itches. not
in a constant, worried state
that i could learn to work through
with prayer or positive thoughts,
but in a nagging, scattered way,
as i await the test results, though
the doctor assured me that my
fears of the worst were almost
life and death hangs
in the realm of "almost."