I got his name
but the Bulge took everything else.
And scant memories remain:
a black-and-white photo of him
perched on the black rocks of a Maine seashore,
shirtless, smiling, with a sister on each side,
and a colorized photo of him
sitting tall in a classic green MG roadster
that he surely drove.
And then, the one sepia photo
that you scribbled in turquoise ink,
“Billy + his pals
his girl I guess
him in a GI beige uniform
wearing a near adult grin,
perhaps the day he left,
perhaps a day he visited,
years after Grandpa wrote those newspaper letters
urging our country to enter the war,
imploring our armies to stop the genocide,
years of reading his European Jews massacred.
And how proud Grandpa was,
his son will now serve,
drafted in January of his senior year,
still time to make a difference,
still time to aid the Allies,
still time to save Jews,
no thoughts of making that ultimate…
And the boasting, endless at each meal,
Bill this in training camp,
Bill that with salt tablets,
Bill this in the 106th,
Bill that in the 427th,
rereading a letter, perhaps from England,
to help with the passing of days to months.
And on one winter’s Sabbath night,
Grandpa’s third wife,
no longer willing to hear any more,
blurted out the name and savage words
over flickering candles,
“Bill, Bill, Bill, that’s all we talk about.
I just wish he was dead!”
And the next day,
there was a knock at the door,
a government green car outside,
two soldiers and a chaplain
handed over a one-page letter
with words and a signature that fail to comfort.
And after the thaw of the Battle’s second day,
the body and flag appeared.
the only son was gone.
the sibling you idolized was gone.
And the legacy of war’s pain would remain and fester.
a new battle began to give him honor
as the justice of unchallenged embellishments fought
the injustice of those who forget.
And Memorial Day weekend 2006,
you shared with me
how your father passed in red sorrow
because a school superintendent refused to bend a rule,
to issue the posthumous diploma
that could have been a salve
on the laceration of eleven months, not twelve in service,
as if he had a son who could have made that choice.
And right then, I wanted to do this one thing,
to be a hero wearing his name, to honor him.
it was my turn to write letters,
62 years after Bill would have graduated.
And the principal of today,
having twice served in a desert,
joined in the mission, also wrote letters.
And the next month, all was ready:
a proclamation from the governor,
a proclamation from the mayor,
a framed diploma to be presented
during the regular graduation ceremony,
a special listing in the program,
a paragraph in the Hartford Courant.
And I handed this tribute to you
and your words still haunt me,
“Eh, I would rather have him.”
and the papers were pushed to the side.
and those were your last words.
And mine to you were,
“It’s OK if you want to join
your father and brother.
I know they are waiting for you.”
and you left in 20 seconds.
In your absence, for all these absences
there is this holiday for wounds that never heal.
Aaron Williams’ poems were accepted by Vallum, The Healing Muse, The Scores, Boog City, ARTS by the People, and Kansas City Voices. As part of his ongoing Poetry Slab project, two of Aaron’s concrete poems are permanently displayed as public art in Missouri and Illinois. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.