Remembrances of the Second War
I remember being one of the smallest girls in the class
thus obligated to being the baby in games of “house.”
The bigger children would lift me under my arms
and drag me around like a doll.
You remember being the smallest boy in your class.
You were lucky to have a coach in elementary school,
the only African-American teacher in the school
who also had a medal from the 1936 Olympics.
He taught you to leap higher than your own short height.
I remember the first grade kids would sing the taunt--
“Kindergarten Baby, Father in the Navy,
Born in the Gravy” when all I knew was some men were
Sailors in dark wools and white hats, but not my father.
You remember hearing Hitler’s speeches, rebroadcast
at 4 o’clock in the morning and he asked for helium for airships and apples.
Deceptively friendly but in 1937 your parents stopped speaking any German.
I remember assembling white Red Cross boxes for Greek children
They contained soap, toothbrushes, some paper and pencils.
I remember thinking those children would really have liked
toy cars or dolls.
You remember not sleeping alone in your bed
but sharing space with relatives
who were refugees for whom your parents got affidavits
staying in your house. Some could not land even with papers.
I remember my parents also rescued refugees but they were not relatives.
They had come out of Germany with numbers on their arms.
Some of them worked for my mother as housekeepers and gardeners.
She bought the house next door to ours and they lived there, but some
You remember the parades down Woodward Avenue
With bagpipes piping out the factory workers in 1939
Playing Scotland the Brave for the Black Watch Regiments.
Bagpipe music can still make you cry.
I remember Memorial Day when we were supposed to bring flowers
for the cemetery and the graves of war dead.
My mother had a huge garden cared for by the refugees.
She brought armloads of flowers, hydrangeas, roses, and mock orange.
I wondered what a cemetery was because I had never seen one.
You remember a National Geographic map on which you
Marked with pencil the Nazi onslaught as reported in the
Detroit Free Press. You dreamt vivid images of combat.
I remember in my school corridors were red sand buckets
to put out fires from incendiary bombs if they ever happened.
But they never did. By the third grade, we learned to be prepared
for atomic bombs and/or earthquakes by getting under our wood desks.
You remember being in the US Army in Texas.
You were a marksman with a keen eye and steady hand who
as a Conscientious Objector would never shoot to kill a live target.
You served in the medical corps, a PFC, who by day wore an armband
making you a staff sergeant in charge of ambulances at the air base.
How strange we came to know and love each other many years later.
We were both in formation in those early years.
I was slowly becoming aware of the larger world from which I was often
You were already coping with conflict and injustice
And discrepancies between ideals and reality.
We, in present consciousness, acknowledge the inevitability of conflict
in small organizations (so many we’ve been a part of) and in the world at large.
We, in present consciousness, having lived long decades, without despair.
are fervent pantheists, believing divinity is everywhere.