December 2, 2021

Dan Johnson

BETWEEN THE WARS

June 6, 1944

When I was small I waited for an old man
who helped me cross the street. I remember him fishing,
telling me how the dace had grown cunning since

the first war, since half of Paris had fished them
for food. “Now we can starve again,” he said,
with flies for his bait.

I remember like a blind boy, catching every sound,
sniffing the air of childhood—the baking bread, the pearled
and perfumed women in cars; the adults grappling,

their voices altered, spilling to the sidewalk at night,
raucously drunk and reeling around, softer by the river.
I was never sure of what they said.

Much later I heard—when the armada was ready to move,
iron-green in rows across the sea—that they planted
a dead sailor in the water

and his pockets bloomed with papers, secret and false,
and he rolled close-mouthed with the tide
into the melting dark.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001

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