Richard Widerkehr

The Missing War:
This Armed Ghost Speaks to His Son

Yes, you’ve heard tell how we decamp at dawn,
not spilling secrets of the other world.
No taboos on this one. What our G.I.’s
used for body bags in the Philippines?
Pig skins, so souls of terrorists can’t rise.
Can’t tell you if this embassy’s from heaven.
We saunter in a dead march, reconnoiter,
hot-foot it, have our little fun, ha-ha.
No, we’re not luftmenchen. Air people.

One morning, you’ll walk out in this city.
One night you’ll lug your book. This poem for me?
Just kidding. In a junk shop underneath
a bridge, you’ll bump into Mr. Melman.
Remember his bow ties, red polka dots?
Blue numerals inscribed on his left wrist.
Rescued from some death camp after the war.
Watch out for goniffs, he said. Thieves, I said.
He’s got a yarn or two to tell. Remember
A Child’s History of the World I read you
and your sister. You know how I tried
to force Chloe to see a doctor and take meds,
how she shoved me, knocked my glasses off.
Your mother kept on giving her the money.
Cut the cord, Mary, I said. Three years
she lived with us. Felt like we were
in prison. When Chloe threw dishes across
our table, your mother finally called
the cops, tried to get her help. I want her
out of here yesterday, I said.

Look, I’m no dybbuk sent for payback.
Your poems, not porous shields. This mess
I leave you shlepping like a sack of water.
Make Chloe get treatment. Doors lead
to other doors. This work you do
on your locked ward isn’t emptying
the ocean with a tea spoon. I said that?
Well, I’m sorry. My streets won’t rise up,
Walk signs flashing, Depression-era
newsreels streaming by. Yes, we fought
that war and won. You help strangers—
now help Chloe. This is your missing war.


About the writer:
Richard Widerkehr’s work has appeared in Rattle, Writers Almanac, Verse Daily, Atlanta Review, Open Journal of Arts and Letters, and others. Widerkehr earned his MA from Co-lumbia University and has won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry at The University of Michigan. His latest book, In the Presence of Absence, is published by MoonPath Press. He has published three chapbooks and one novel Sedimental Journey by Tarragon Books. He reads poems for Shark Reef literary magazine.

Image: Royalty free image from PXFUEL.