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Monday, September 19, 2005


by Thomas D. Reynolds

Because of a faulty memory (I was seven)
or slip of a tongue while telling the story
around the dinner table one Thanksgiving
after the meal was eaten and chairs pushed back,
Uncle Ben, who served his country
during World War II in Fort Riley, Kansas,
battling dust, wind, and boredom,
hanging out with his buddies at the canteen
on Saturday nights eager for action,
with the whole world exploding around them,
spent twenty years battling
the Axis on the beaches of Normandy.

One day, he was walking back to the barracks
after a few beers to write his girl back home,
sitting on the steps just for a moment
to tidy his cap and spit-polish his left boot
when in the time it takes to light a cigarette
and stab half-heartedly at a last sliver of pumpkin pie
he crashed from that step onto the floor
of a landing craft awash with salt water and vomit,
bruising his forehead to add blood to the mix.
The ocean is already red.
Next to him were brothers he'd never seen before;
their gaunt faces somehow comforted him.

Maybe his sudden appearance in battle,
though it terrified him, didn't even seem unusual,
for he knew combat is often preceded by boredom,
endless drilling, dreams of heroic deeds,
before one finds himself retching his lunch
at the sight of dead comrades amidst the waves,
piercing rhythms of machine-gun fire,
the sickening thud of the gunboat striking shore
as he is propelled forward in the insane rush
to reach the battlements through exploding bodies.

Uncle Joe, until that moment aboard that gunboat,
found himself outside the Fort Riley barracks
ears exploding with silence of a Kansas dusk,
the spectacular sunset a deepening blood red.
Adrenaline still raced through his broad frame;
his fingers still gripped an imaginary rifle.

John's twenty years of drilling, dust, and boredom
ended around another elaborate Thanksgiving table,
smoke curling from the ends of a last cigarette,
the clank of dishes being carried into the kitchen.
"No, Ben was never in combat," my grandmother said.
"It was John who stormed the beaches of Normandy.
When he returned, he was never quite the same,
though Ben envied his battle experience."

In that instant, eighteen-year-old Ben returned to the step,
then strolled inside the barracks to locate his bunk,
there to dream of the horrors of battle,
while John again stepoed over mutilated corpses,
prayed to God that Ben, his little brother,
innocent and naive, would be spared such carnage.

Thomas D. Reynolds received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University, currently teaches at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, and has published poems in various print and online journals, including New Delta Review, Alabama Literary Review, Aethlon-The Journal of Sport Literature, Flint Hills Review, The MacGuffin, The Cape Rock, The Pedestal Magazine, Eclectica, Strange Horizons, Combat, 3rd Muse Poetry Journal, and Ash Canyon Review.