Southern France, 1945
What young men won’t do, my father wondered,
scalpel in hand, his army drabs stained red,
catching his breath beneath his surgeon’s mask,
peering again into the body of this boy
he guesses joined up like all the rest:
to prove something. And my father’s task
of cutting—cutting through tissue
and bone, using everything he’s learned.
War is war, of course. He knows that.
His job: to keep these boys alive,
even the Germans, to cut past
gangrened flesh. Afterwards
the intricate suturing, the mangled
limbs removed from the antiseptic table
by someone else. How he’s able
to do this, hour after hour, one body
becoming another, he doesn’t know.
He thinks of this now in Brooklyn
walking down Court Street to the barber
past all the specialty shops—cheese wheels
from France, barrels of pickles,
salmon and mussels on racks of ice,
rabbit carcasses, their skins removed,
hanging above displays of liver and chops.
Against his will the smell and the sound
of the saw he always had to use,
the feel of it, and in his arm the ache.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Andrea Hollander: “During the wars that have occurred in my lifetime, I have found myself dwelling on my father’s wartime experiences in France, where he served in the surgical unit of an American army field hospital. After the war, my mother, who had not seen him for more than two years, joined him, and that’s when (and where) I was conceived. I credit Dad, who was a lover of poetry, for my own passion for it.” (web)