Von Thompson writes of the Pacific Island nation of Palau, haunted by the clash of Japanese and American forces during World War II.
I. Generations in Palau
These bones ask for attention,
tap on soles, polite
whispers between toes
in time to the tug of the tide.
A handful of sand reveals
a tooth, a finger bone, part of a rib,
the old dead of familiar disasters.
They happily share their grave
with the living, embrace the
tread of grandsons and swirl of water
from paddling lovers who meet
beneath the secret-keeping moon.
II. Poor Bastard
I’m not afraid of you,
though I’m a girl who sleeps
with covers tight around
my neck, eyes half open,
lamplight chasing away terror.
You are not the white rock
I thought you were, a souvenir
of these Flanders fields running
with mud, grasping at soles, insistent,
possessive. Daddy shows me where
this piece of you once fit tight in your hip,
tells your story: trench rot gas
screaming mortar shells fear.
Did the mud suck at your soles?
Did you sleep with your coat
tight around your neck,
eyes half open? Tonight I will sleep
in my bed, light and murmured conversation
holding back the fear. You will sleep
again in the Belgian rain, nestled
where my father gently tossed
this remnant of you, your benediction
only a murmured poor bastard.
III. No bones
There are no bones left,
Daddy, nothing to hold in my hand,
to fit like a puzzle piece back in
my life, nothing but this grey ash
that swirls in the seafoam
and settles to mix with sand
that sucks and tugs at the soles of my feet.
Tonight, this benediction done, I’ll sleep
with covers tight around my neck, light on,
and try to hear your voice above the waves.
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Photo by Wessex Archaeology/Flickr