English poet Anne Lawrence Bradshaw reflects on her grandfather’s World War II service and its impact on her father.
My father taught me guns.
Saturdays, stood in muddy English fields,
the mute machismo of the cold metallic barrel,
its weight of lead in my hands.
And teeming boxes of shells, rattling out dull tunes,
demanding to be used. So many toy soldiers escaping
unlocked nursery rooms.
My father was an orphan of the war.
Like Telemachus, he waited out the years,
wondering who his father was
and if he’d ever return.
His mother showed him letters from the camps.
‘Prisoner Of War’ was woven into daily prayers,
got lost among the ration cards,
the ‘make do and mend’.
My father’s father did his best, but
when the hunger in his eyes went out
the others knew it was time.
They carried him like a child in the end,
through Japanese reeds in yellow light,
a blur of railings,
All of his sixty pounds
weighed less than a soldier’s pack.
My father couldn’t understand
when I turned away from guns.
I thought myself a disappointment then:
black sheep, traitor, cuckoo-in-the-nest,
the Trojan horse at his own front gate.
Though mud would have held me down,
it was never in my blood,
yet the recoil was forgiven
when my shoulder felt his hand.
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