For your 90th birthday, I won’t write
a poem to exploit the man you were
before I grew up. You drank Ancient Age,
goddamned this and that. You fought
in World War II, loaded first
the Bofors on the deck of your ship
named for the capital of Vermont—
as if the allusive
blankets of snow could save you
from the heat of the Pacific sun,
shining shadows over Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima.
Surveying the aftermath, I imagine
you take your first nip, an offering
from the West Virginia boys
who call it white lightning.
Visions of Zeus flash
through your mind. That’s as far
as it goes. You never finished high school.
What are the odds
they taught Greek mythology
anyway? How could you have known
Zeus also ruled his family with his right fist,
suffered addiction, took a wife and mistresses
who gave him children we, too, call
heroes? All are legends
to me, who didn’t know you then.
Now, I visit the veterans’ nursing home,
find you in the mess hall
sipping black coffee, snaking on a Hershey bar.
You raise your right arm to wave,
introduce me as Miss America
to a woman who worked as a nurse
on a hospital ship. You knew each other
because of some secret hand signal
that looked like (but wasn’t) the sign for O.K.
I pull up a chair, tell you I got a dog
and you tell me about Tiger who, I knew,
took up at your trailer for a while, then disappeared.
Anyhow, you say you couldn’t afford to care
for him, but he’s all you ever talk about
unless the Braves are in season, or the weather
seems bad. You find thunderstorms fascinating.
When the lights flicker above your bed,
I wonder if you wonder when the clouds will call you home.
Anna Harris-Parker’s poems have appeared in Cellpoems, Mikrokosmos, and Poetry for the Masses. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Augusta University, where she also advises Sand Hills Literary Magazine, and directs Writers Weekend at Summerville