Posted tagged ‘World War I mistake poem’


June 12, 2014


My grandfather was grievously wounded,
World War I.

Perhaps, because I never met him,
it took me years
to get the story straight.

Who did he fight for?
Was Sweden even in the war?
Or was it Germany, where he’d studied
as a young man?
(This thought I always tried
to banish–but how could it be for the States, I’d wonder,
when he could only just have come–)

But war is its own country,
and all I really understood
was that he’d marched so deeply into it
that he was reported killed in action,
and his name engraved,
while he was nursed unknown,
on a monument to
the fallen.

For years, I imagined
that monument to be
in Stockholm or thereabouts–even connecting the mistake
with his emigration–
My idea: that the strange reception he’d received
on returning to the place
where he’d been given up for dead
had caused him to leave
for good.

But the truth is:
Sweden was neutral in the war,
he fought for the U.S.,
the monument sits
in a leafy park in Minnesota.

After learning all of that, I imagined him visiting the park
of a Sunday,
a sly grin on his face (akin to the laugh
of someone who looks up, bruised but intact, after
a prat fall)
as he stood in the shade of tree and column
tracing his name and the date
of his supposed demise.

I don’t know why I imagined the grin.
Maybe because he was known
for a twinkling sense of humor,
or maybe because when certain family members (my brother)
told the story, they were usually trying
to prove something–God’s grace–
and their voices and eyebrows
rose with the animation of someone convinced
that, finally, they had me,
their proof irrefutable.

But I don’t believe my grandfather was particularly religious,
and God and World War I
are pretty hard to link.  In fact, all I can think
is that I’ve got the story wrong again, that in real life,
my grandfather could never
have stood there and grinned.

For surely. there are other names
carved in that stone–
the names of men whose mistake
was being ordered
into fire, being entrenched
with disease–  their error
turning 18 before the 1900’s did.

After his real death, my grandfather came back
to Minnesota one more time–
so, my dad believed.
To console him, he said.
Don’t be sad, he told my father
on that ghost visit, don’t
be afraid.

In the parks in Minnesota, leaves twinkle
when they capture sun, so glad of it.




This is really a story and not a poem.  I should probably break up the lines into prose.  And it is way too long.  And late for the prompt that inspired it–a prompt on family history from Grace on dVerse Poets Pub.   I am also linking this to the open link day of with real toads hosted by Kerry O’Connor.  

Thanks for taking the time to read.

PS – the pic is a gold finch or oriole crossing the road.  (I don’t know what made them to do it.)  All rights reserved.