Tom Sheehan: Letter To My Sweet-Smelling Woman Waiting
When asked to read to celebrate my new book of memoirs,
I let the audience enter the cubicle from where the work came.
I told them: I’ll celebrate with you by telling you what I know,
how it is with me, what I am, what has made me this way;
a public posture of a private life near nine decades deep.
Just behind the retina, a small way back, is a little room.
with secret doors, passageways, key words beside Sesame.
If you’re lucky enough to get inside that room, at the right time,
there’s ignition, a flare, now and then pure incandescence,
a white phosphorous shell detonating ideas and imagery.
It’s the core room of memories, holding everything
I’ve ever known, seen, felt, spurting with energy.
Shadowy, intermittent presences we usually know
are microscope-beset, become most immediate.
For glorious moments, splendid people rush back
into our lives with their baggage, Silver Streak unloaded,
Boston’s old South Station alive, bursting seams.
At times I’ve been lucky, white phosphorescently lucky;
when I apprehend all, quadrangle of Camp Drake in Japan
in February of 1951, the touch and temperature of the breeze
on the back of my neck; I know a rifle’s weight on a web
strap on my shoulder, awed knowledge of a ponderous
steel helmet, tight lace on a boot, watch band on one wrist.
Behind me, John Salazer is a comrade with two brothers
not yet home from World War II, who the captain calls
and says, “You go home tomorrow. Be off the hill before dark.”
“No, sir, I’ll spend the night with Jack down in the listening post.”
At darkness a Chinese infiltrator hurls a grenade into their bunker.
The count begins again, eternal count, odds maker at work,
clash of destinies. On the ship heading home, on a troop train
rushing across America, in all rooms of sleep since then,
are spaces around me. Memory, fragile, becomes tenacious,
but honors me as a voice, and my will to spread their tenacity.
My book says, ‘For those who passed through Saugus, all towns,
comrades bravely walked away from home to fall elsewhere,
and the frailest one of all, frightened, glassy-eyed, knowing
he is hapless, one foot onto D-Day soil or South Pacific beach
and going down, but not to be forgotten, not ever here.”
I had their attention. We shared: The shells were cannonading
as one died in my arms, blood setting sun down. In darkness now
I cannot find his face again. I search for it, stumble, lose my way.
November’s rich again, exploding. Sixty-four Novembers burst
the air. I inhale anew, leaves bomb me, sap is still, muttering
of the Earth is mute. I remember all the Novembers; one tears
about me now, but his face is lost. How can I find his face again?
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