Hells Bells

Hells Bells
Heart of the Heart of the Country
February 01
Book editor, parent, MFA in poetry from a land far, far, away--and a long, long time ago . . . I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on TV.


JUNE 21, 2009 11:22AM

My Father's War, on Adak Island

Rate: 11 Flag


It was boring, my father begins, and
It was usually snowing. He pauses,
as if he half expects it to begin storming

right there in the living room, whipping
the wreckage of letters and pictures up
into a real winter squall. Then it all
spills out--days on the train from Michigan,
his ship rolling across the Bering Sea.

During those years, Amchitka was bombed,
and Kiska occupied, and the long days curved
like the gray walls of a Quonset hut,
like the Aleutians themselves, gradually,
into a kind of silent whiteness,
sad as a pin-up, a deck of cards,
orders typed out in triplicate.
He became numb listening to voices snap
through sleet falling inside the wireless.
Days were spaces, and conversations
became something to fill in with Well,
and the drone of Japanese fighter planes,
and snow sighing again, covering all.

On those days when he lay in his bunk
and the leaves of the book he was reading
fell open on the blanket, he let himself dream,
let himself think of bombs not falling,
of the rest of his life stretching away
like small houses on a street, each day
with four straight walls and a roof.
He dreamed letters: thin blue envelopes
addressed in a slanted hand . . . and they came.
He dreamed my mother, who wrote the letters,
dreamed her with dark hair in a flowered dress,
dreamed my brother, dreamed me.

Planes flying low over the island banked,
then climbed back into blankness.
And one rare morning when the sun was shining,
the private who stocked shelves in the PX
coaxed him out into the brightness, saying,
Let's get a picture.


        Ivan (1917-2001)

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
My father never saw combat. Even so, like a lot of WWII vets, he wouldn't talk about his experience. So I made this up, based on an album of photos he'd kept that fascinated me as a child.
beautiful. I wrote a poem about my dad as well. His dates were 1918-2004...

PS - LOVE the tags
We gotta make their dream come true.What they fought for. Not a world of better & bigger commmodities & cutthroat competition.

Pink Floyd's album the final cut comes to mind: "oh maggie..what have we done...

to england.."?
They sure didnt build Jerusalem, as Blake instructed 200 yrs ago...we're waiting..
Great semi-fiction, HB - I wonder if, even having not seen combat, the tension was so great that he didn't want to revisit those times, or whether, he felt that he should have seen combat. Perhaps we'll never know. Your poem captures an excellent story, though.
My dad never saw combat, either, during WW II because he was a young teacher in his twenties who joined and ended up supervising a large office that processed information, records, death certificates, and other paperwork. Somebody had to do that stuff, too.

I would add, too, that the fact that so few WW II vets talked about their experiences probably has more to do with a generation of men, like the generations before them, incapable of talking about emotional and traumatic experiences, or of dealing with emotional experiences at all, really. The veterans of Vietnam seemed different and more open in contrast.
Exquisite poem, Hells! I would never have thought to use the phrase 'Snow Sighing" but I think that nails it...the feeling one gets when you cannot get out much andyou are inside so long the snow begins to look like big lumps under a huge white blanket and they literally siiigh when the lumps shift and turn.
Many thanks! Rated
He dreamed letters: thin blue envelopes
addressed in a slanted hand . . . and they came.
He dreamed my mother, who wrote the letters,
dreamed her with dark hair in a flowered dress,
dreamed my brother, dreamed me.

This is so lovely. Just lovely.

My dad may have been in one of those planes overhead. He didn't see combat either, but was stationed in Alaska as an Air Force pilot. He was lucky, he had his wife and their first baby - my sister - with him.

They might be exchanging stories now, our dads. They'll have a lot to talk about.
My dad doesn't speak of it either. I asked him about it, and he said, sure I will, "What do you want to know?" The fact he made it home alive is enough.

Loved your piece, the fiction is probably closer to the truth than the stories we would have heard.
I rated this after reading it twice this morning and it’s taken me all day to get back here. I am so lucky to have found talented poets like you and consonantsandvowels here. I’ve been denying my poetry craving for too long, so it’s been especially delicious savoring yours.

I love how you start this poem with “It was boring”—a sure way of getting my attention! Seriously, I have this penchant for the ordinary that makes me a sucker for stories like your father’s, especially when they’re told with such rich sensory detail and emotional resonance.

Thanks for your inspiring work. Can’t wait to read more.

He dreamed letters: thin blue envelopes
addressed in a slanted hand . . . and they came.

So moved by that line. Your words make me so sad because my father is not someone that I celebrate. But I will conjure up a few fantasies thanks to your compelling words. Highly rated
This is lovely, HB...a wonderful tribute to your father...it's really so perfectly without 'extras'...you know?
My father never saw action either, and I think it affected his life forever after. He could never "prove himself." He was born in 1899 (that is not a misprint), enlisted in the Marines in 1917, and was shipped out of Port Newark on November 10, 1918. One day out at sea the shooting stopped. There WAS no war. So my father stayed in Paris for a year with the AEF, and while only God knows what he did with his time, the lessons I learned about his taste for women give me a pretty good idea of his activities. And then he came home and was miserable through two marriages, one legitimate child (me), perhaps one illegitimate child, a couple of affairs, and an early death when I was 10.

I always wondered why in hell he came back to Brooklyn after a year in Paris. I wrote a poem years ago in which I imagined him as Jake Barnes (a bit of a joke), as an acquaintance of Wilfred Owen, and the lover of a French war widow. I called it "Impersonae" because there was no one man in my father's skin, but--as I saw it--a series of conflicting selves that never reconciled. Would a war have helped him? I suspect he might have thought so.
Hi HB - look at you - getting people to read poetry.

This was fascinating. "Snow sighing" was my favorite phrase, and I liked how the beginning gave me the picture of a reserved, silent man way before I read down to your tags. My grandmother has some of those blue letters in her scrapbooks, sent from her brothers in the South Pacific. It's amazing to hold and read them and guess what's under the black marks of the censors.
Wow, very interesting.
This was excellent! And Cold! Your Father looked a lot like mine, standing erect! Thank you for showing me this!