Young Men, Decades Apart

Conflict long ago brought me
to sign up early for war,
rushed to leave for a future
from the Warsaw Station
as Stalin’s tongue held them off
for a while, all of us now on
same footing, those told
to join, those allowed to ask
to join, as our enemies,
a crazy man’s regiments
with the harsh consonants
of language and looks,
braved our world,
countryside, Leningrad, Moscow.
Snowflakes piling up, dead.

And now, decades pass,
men pass, women too.
And what of these hands?
These hands that held
tightly to guns as mind,
my mind, held tightly to myself
as battalions, we, together,
crossed frozen lakes
and passed those not fighting
but going other ways
or deciding watching.

My pravnuk does not
understand as I tell
this tale, these tales,
this passing.  He rubs
the shiny piece of metal
looped at his eyebrow,
shrapnel, shrapnel
embedded but painless
much of the time,
much like a heart.
He never met great-grandmother;
the boy never heard our language
except for a few words
I sometimes scatter
without thinking, carelessly,
like seeds for birds.

Tattoos he has on his arms,
the flesh of the West,
children with so much color
on them, ink staining their skins,
their skin, much of it symbols
that make no sense to me.
Or anyone else, I think.
He skates on a board,
a skull on the bottom
that I see when he flies
through the air
with other boys, like birds
grabbing at seeds but
not really caring if they are
easy to digest or not.

He has lived here for longer
than we fought a war
that left dead in the streets
of our cities, making
the air even colder.
He is now nearing age, the age
when I took the gun, took
the papers, took the clothes
that many took up and on,
and helped turn back a man
crazier than all in the world.

I visit this land, where the skins
of boys are now their own uniform,
tight, short hair but not quite
short enough for service,
little beards on their chins,
gold or silver shining
from different places on their heads,
their bodies that run through life
while people go other ways or just
standing there watch them pass,
none knowing what enemies
they are fleeing or pursuing,
or what conflict I now feel
that makes me remember
I never got to soar through
the air as they do.  My feet
were always on the ground,
on the rocks, on the water
frozen, cold, hard, Russian,
strong, fighting, clean still.

We fought, and I want to tell
my grandson, even in his language,
this language that I have learned,
that my children know too well,
that can make the past seem
like a story and that’s all,
I want to tell him, listen
as you go, the enemy can be around
the corner.  The cold does not
stop as many hearts as it should.
But all I see is a gang of boys
running, rolling down the street,
flapping in the wind
with their big pants and
their bigger shirts,
their yells like bird-talk.
The boys rush faster into life,
past so many stone steps quickly
by sliding on the solid guardrail
that is meant to help old ones like me.
If I am grabbing onto that cold
metal as I walk down those steps,
step one old leg after another,
the boys will fly right over me.





[Ronnie Sirmans is a newspaper editor, sometimes working alone at midnight and often writing headlines, trying to sum up long stories in a few words, which reminds him somewhat of poetry. His poems have appeared in Gargoyle, The Museum of Americana, Jewish Currents, BlazeVOX, Deep South Magazine, The South Carolina Review, and elsewhere.]

Copyright © 2016 by Ronnie Sirmans, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.