Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dad and the Trick Circus Horse

Edward Lindner and friend
My sister has been sifting through all her possessions lately.  Going through boxes, she came across this picture of our father, taken when he was about eighteen.  His writing on the back identifies his ride as a trick horse of the circus.  I'll bet there's a story there, if only we'd thought to ask him about it.

Now that our Dad is gone, I often wish we'd asked more questions about his experiences as a soldier.  He was a man of remarkably few words, but now I wonder if we could have drawn him out more, if only we thought to try.  Old letters and photographs serve as a few tantalizing puzzle pieces. Here's a poem I wrote a while back about that never-to-be-finished puzzle:

Our Father in Company L

What we, his daughters, know we mostly garner
from pawing through old boxes.  Among pearls
a pewter skull bares black-edged teeth.  We’ve heard
Dad guarded German prisoners in Hammelburg.
One wanted cigarettes, offered a trade.
How must it feel to hold an M1 Carbine,
to pace the wall of bars?  We like to twist
the key on mother’s box.  While dancers twirl
we take turns with the ring, slipping it on
to spin the skull in circles at our knuckles.
We read again, one to the other, how
he thought he might get slicked up, take a walk,
and how he danced with Polish girls at parties
and missed his folks, but had no news to write,
because most days I don’t do anything.
Here and there, in snapshots of young men,
we hunt for him, eighteen and angular,
sporting his disguise, the uniform
he loved for its sleek cut.  It’s a small thrill
each time we pick him out from other men—
Esteel and Jordan, Bogard and Bernholtz—
last names only, scrawled across the back,
those men he loved, and missed, we guess, and never
saw again.  Men in their helmets, field coats,
their white KP aprons, with boots and guns.
We know our versions of his life are small
and artificial as this porcelain couple,
frozen and formal, black tie and white gown,
who sashay on red satin while the music box
spins out its tinny melody, Hi Lily,
Hi Lo.  Can any daughter know her father?
We’re nine, eleven, twenty, thirty-seven,

still kneeling at these boxes, rifling through.

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