Think of the summer of Nineteen Fifty, of the last summer of laughing together;


of the black, broken nubs of my grandfather’s teeth, the grandfather who fled Kaiser Bill;


of my father aboard ship in the Pacific in the 1930’s during the Great Depression;


of him on a battleship during World War II;


of him in the summer before the Korean War;


of me hiding in the shade on a curb under giant elms arching over Terrace Street, hearing my mother cry inside the house, pregnant again with a sixth child;


of Joplin, the toothless man in a striped cap, shouting from his gothic truck in a voice mined from a tin can, “Trash man! Trash man! Haul ye trash! By gol, haul trash!” and wondering if he lived in a house or in his truck;


of going as often as I could to Salty’s to buy bubble gum, to see his wife, a tattooed French woman with smeared lipstick in a strapless top he brought home from Paris in 1945 after the parades through the Arc de Triomphe;


of horses pulling bread wagons, the last bread wagons in America, their urine blistering the pavement, its smell so potent we held our noses until the next summer storm;


of my father at the breakfast table before work streaking his plate in bright yellow yolks and beef brains with the crust of his toast, shaking the newspaper at my mother in her bathrobe in the kitchen, his voice hoarse with anger and alarm, shouting “Marie, there’s going to be another war!”;


of the sweltering night in July when my father signed the certified letter

ordering him to active duty for the third time in his life;



of my mother crying about the brilliant red rash between her thighs,

the temperature outside one hundred four, humidity as high as it could get,

no money for the doctor, the hospital, the house payment, the milkman;


of my father rushing to her side with washcloths soaked in baking soda; of when I peeked to watch him rub her yellowish swollen stomach, whisper with each soft circle, “Marie, it’s going to be…the house…the kids…going to be all right…”;


of when I heard him in his sleep, repeating the same word, a word I didn’t understand then, a word I now repeat as an antiphon to his litany, a word I sounded out slowly in each of its sickening syllables, “Pan/mun/jom…Pan/mun/ jom…”;


of the summer of Nineteen Sixty-Nine, the rocket screaming across the wire at Tay Ninh Base Camp, my face against the red dirt, seeing in that millisecond

the war he feared in those endless nights was not his war, but wars to come


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