haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2005, vol 1 no 1

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Helen Ruggieri, USA

My Father's War

At 17 he drove an ambulance and learned to distinguish men from the mud they lay in, all brown uniforms, dead horses, splintered carts. He learned to distinguish corpse from casualty, searching cratered ruts, bunkers, alone with the dying, the pattern of war.

Mostly, he remembers the mud, the viscosity of it, the color, the smell.

The shells come down along the road: one, two, three, four in a line. The first one sights you in, and so forth, until they get you with the last. You drive like hell, caught in the ruts, skidding, then stop quick, before the next four come down. At each fast stop, each racing start, the screams, how they cursed him, "Damn you to hell." "For Christ's sake!". But you don't listen to them, you listen to the guns, waiting for that pause in the middle, that caesura, the punctuation of life. "If your timing's off," he'd say, "too bad, forever."

It snowed on Easter Day, heavy spring snow which melted into the mud, stalling vehicles, miring horses. In the tents the surgeons worked stained with blood or mud, who knows. They tot up the numbers, wait for the shell-shocked to stumble in laughing or crying. Head wounds, chest wounds, limbs cut away, gore thick on the stone floor, guns rumbling 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. 149 stretcher cases.

At dark they drive without lights into town to trade blankets.

The dead don't need them. They hold them up to show no holes, count off - un, deuce, trey, qwat, open the first bottle of wine. Mademoiselle from Armentieres, parlez vous silence de mort?

A cold wind from the north blows through the tent, rattles the flies. The blanketless dead count cadence. My father wakes in the silence before dawn holding the length of that pause closer than a woman.

in the mud
frozen footprints
Easter morning

 


 

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