Day of Remembrance
This Memorial Day is different. My father places a small carton of artefacts before me on the kitchen table—things I never knew he had. In seventy years, he never once talked about it, deflecting all questions with “There’s nothing to talk about.”
He’s in his nineties, and I wonder, why now? But do not voice my question, elated that he has decided to share these things with me. He leaves the room to give me space.
out of the closet
articles of war
Dumbfounded, I dig out his aluminum dog tags, the size of a half dollar; register the cold, impersonal touch on my palm, wonder what it was like around his neck. Letters from my mother are enclosed within a heavy envelope on top—her picture, a lock of her hair. Unsettled, I put them back, leaving the letters for last. Remaining are two pocket sized black books—Dad’s diaries.
I open to the slanted script, ink smeared in places, fragments rather than sentences—a decimated Japanese village, little kids lost, crying; bodies in the rice paddies, bodies huddled together in fear—killing them out of fear. His handwriting is trembly, and as I continue on to the second book, I hear the uncertain, quivering voice that haunts these pages. Pausing to catch my breath, I stop for a while. I never heard my father cry. These books are full of tears.
falling from the trees…
my tea’s bitter taste
I stare out the window, watch flags hanging limp in the afternoon desert sun. The Sousa marches that stirred the early morning air are now replaced by images, death-stilled and sun-hollowed. How does one reconcile the spirited and robust music of patriotism with killing for one’s flag?
Continuing with the second book, father’s handwriting becomes almost illegible—names of the dead, of the wounded—men he would never see again. I hear loneliness and loss, in spite of the entries about the band he sang with on board his ship. A picture unmoored from its scotch tape shows the young men in his group. All dead except my father.
the mouse no match
for the hawk
Together in the living room, we finally talk about his war, his years of silence, my unknowing. How he’d been lost inside that war. He said coming home alive to a loving wife and two small children had saved him. He’d been afraid, ashamed, beaten. Now in his last years, he’d wanted me to understand.
in their midst
my father’s shy smile
by Mary Jo Balistreri (USA)
The Haibun Anthology, Issue 1:2, 2019