I was still young enough to be in love

with war:  how mortar shell’s concussion

kicked me in the chest hard enough

I died small deaths every red morning,

how if I made it home, those two girls

twittering behind me, either of them

I could dip backwards on crowded street

and stop her whole life with a kiss,

how killing one Jerry, even one,

would be enough to make my Polish father hate

this world a little less.

But I lost

how much less unbearable I made

it for him, and then how many times

I woke to a car door slamming in the night,

which pulled at me hard enough

only hours alone at the kitchen table

and day’s strengthening light could quiet me,

when a newspaper thumped on the porch

and a boy pedaled an empty street.  

Now I am old and difficult enough

to know to be afraid for the world,

for my sons who I see

in the distance and don’t call out to.

For that boy in the picture

who believed there was only one way

he could become a man.


Michael Levan

Found photograph, reprinted with permission of Grey Water

Poet's Commentary: 

Half of my family didn’t come to America until after World War II, which has always seemed like a hole in my life. So much of their history (and mine) can never be recovered. Responding to found photos from 1940s through ‘60s America has given me the chance to explore the challenges and triumphs of an era that’s much more complicated than we often are led to believe and, even more than that, to imagine another version of what my story could have been.