May 24, 2020

Stephen Gibson



I have often told stories about you
as a kid I promised not to forget,
like the photo I kept in my wallet
when you were in boot camp in WWII
posing outside your tent—everyone knew
the future would happen but didn’t let
themselves think too much, only to regret
what was in the past they could not undo.
I’d look at that photo and promise you
thoughts of the Bronx River Housing Project
with you home, like that pic in my wallet,
would remain with me forever. Who knew?
That photo, which had serrated edges,
was lost long ago. So much for pledges.



Lost long ago, so much for the pledges
to a dead father in a photograph
who stands outside a tent—and almost laughs;
the smile is hard around the edges
and the photo in memory dredges
up memories after the photograph:
an adult, I want to cut time in half
and remember only a boy’s pledges—
but how can you forget what you still know,
cut time in half and remember before
but not ever what will happen later?
It’s not like tearing in half a photo
and pretending you didn’t go to war
or what you did later to my mother.



And what you did later to my mother,
a child should never see—court photos
document the violence blow by blow
to justify each restraining order,
which you would comply with, and then ignore.
It must have been I didn’t want to know
and turned my mind off as two shadows
entered the bedroom and closed the door.
The cops would come, as they had come before,
and ask your wife if she wanted to go
with them to the hospital, and she’d say no—
when the door opened, there’d be the neighbors.
This was in the Bronx River Housing Project,
images not in the photo in my wallet.



Images not in the photo in my wallet—
nor the image of you in your boxer shorts,
cops helping you with your pants. Their reports
included the weapons, German war helmet,
Nazi flag, and the letters you would let
the cops pretend to read, pretend to sort,
then return to the shoe boxes. You were caught
trying to make sense of what you couldn’t forget—
hence, the war trophies on the bed and letters—
and you going over each one again and again,
and never recalling what you’d done to her,
after you promised it would never happen,
after what you had experienced in war.
Your gravestone marker reads “Tank Destroyer.”



Your gravestone marker reads “Tank Destroyer.”
I took my wife and kids there on vacation.
At Bay Pines, they gave me a map of the section
and circled in blue your row with the number.
I went there because I had promised her.
I have a wife, a daughter, and a son.
The visit was a side-trip on the vacation.
By chance, in another section was a bag-piper.
I took a photograph of your grave marker.
It gives your name, rank, and division.
You passed away when you were thirty-seven,
the war over, but a casualty of the war
(and as a casualty, I include my mother),
after convulsive-shock and pneumonia.



After convulsive shock and pneumonia
you died—buried in Bay Pines, in Florida.
I went to visit as I’d promised her
before your wife died of liver cancer.
I have the map, with section, row, number,
circled in blue ink I keep in a drawer
with batteries, flashlight, if we lose power
in the next hurricane. I live in Florida.
I’m retired. I was a college professor.
My wife of fifty years (also a teacher,
retired), plans trips to our son and daughter
and daughter’s boyfriend in Seattle each summer.
I don’t live in the Bronx River Housing Project.
I don’t have that photo of you in my wallet.



I don’t have that photo of you in my wallet
because I lost it a long time ago,
but I do have the cemetery photo—
it’s on my bookcase. I don’t want to forget
that at City College, you wanted to get
your CPA, the war came, you had to go:
That’s you outside that tent in the photo
and the future hasn’t happened, not yet,
and nothing is lost—the photo, the wallet,
the you (almost) smiling because you know
that’s how she needs to see you as you go
off to a future neither of you could expect.
The past is past; what’s done, we can’t undo.
I have often told stories about you.

from Poets Respond
May 24, 2020


Stephen Gibson: “In memory of my father this Memorial Day.”

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December 14, 2018

Stephen Gibson


for R. G. G., New York PFC 8
Tank Destroyer GP, d. January 31, 1959

It’s an old, black-and-white serrated-edged photo
taken of my father during his basic training
in World War II—he was drafted: he had to go.

He looks so young standing outside that tent, akimbo,
in uniform, facing the camera—and sun, squinting—
in that old, black-and-white serrated-edged photo

that was tucked in a corner of her mirror—I didn’t know
who it was as a kid, maybe an uncle or something
who was drafted in World War II and had to go.

When I was eleven, my mother thought I should know:
the man in uniform was my father, who’d gone missing—
all that time, in a black-and-white serrated-edged photo.

The man who shipped back after Bastogne was a shadow—
but the violence he displayed wasn’t shadow-boxing—
he’d been drafted during World War II and had to go.

Old court records detail everything, blow by blow—
but in this photograph, that man was her everything.
It’s an old black-and-white serrated-edged photo
of my father drafted in World War II. He had to go.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


Stephen Gibson: “I wrote this poem in response to an old photograph of my father, when he was young and the future had not happened yet, which is what a photo does—it captures a moment of a life in time, as that life and time move on.”

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March 27, 2018

Stephen Gibson


Saturday, March 24, 2018

After the opera, my two friends start to talk about the war,
drafted, neither back then a dove or hawk about the war.

Our waiter takes drink orders—one wife asks for water;
then another asks that the table talk not be about the war.

One went on the last troop transport to sail to Vietnam—
flying back, he felt like an outline in chalk because of the war.

The other, in intelligence, remembers his first time in Saigon—
a half-kid swinging between his own arms on the sidewalk. War.

The waiter brings the first one’s martini—olives not on the side—
this time the five of us watch him balk—there won’t be war.

Over the bar, it’s the last of tonight’s Elite Eight on the four TVs—
just three of us watch a coach’s widow walk at the end of his war.

Earlier today, March for Our Lives was split-screen everywhere—
Emma Gonzalez’s long silence mocked by a chicken hawk. War.

from Poets Respond


Stephen Gibson: “The poem is self-explanatory. March Madness. March for Our Lives. Opera.”

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August 20, 2017

Stephen Gibson


Nuremberg Museum

Göring leaned over to Hess to crack a joke—
they’re with those other killers who meant no harm:
everything Nazis did, they did for blood and volk.

I grew up in the Bronx. Jews went up in smoke.
My neighbors had numbers tattooed on forearms.
Göring leaned over to Hess to crack a joke.

The woman giving testimony hardly spoke
when Göring moved to grab Hess by the arm—
everything Nazis did, they did for blood and volk.

Hess didn’t move—he looked comatose—
Göring elbowed: the third time was the charm.
Göring leaned over to Hess to crack a joke.

My father was at Bastogne—something broke
(after the war, electroshock intended to calm).
Everything Nazis did, they did for blood and volk.

America’s Neo-Nazi White Supremacists stoke
fear: they bear torches to bring on the storm.
Göring leaned over to Hess to crack a joke.
Everything Nazis did, they did for blood and volk.

from Poets Respond


Stephen Gibson: “Charlottesville, Boston—the poem is self-explanatory.”

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