“The Real Thing” by Stephen Gibson

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.”

Rattle Logo