Not quite Mary’s little lambs,
We shuffled in a straight wobbly line
(Some tip-toed, some dragged their feet)
Along the sad open casket—“Did somebody trip?”
“No. She goofed and tried to genuflect!”
We paused to fumble the sign of the cross
Or mumble a shame-faced prayer
And remember not to stare
Or worse—shut our dumb-struck eyes
From the gray face of our classmate’s dad
Laid out in his Navy white
So still and stiff and young.
For some time after, we were awed
In schoolyard whispers and in our thoughts.
For some time after, we let her win.
Even our kind fourth-grade nun would bend
And listen longer for the right answer. A rare
Pigtail girl like me but stamped with a mile-long
Polish name. That mourning day a small sliver
Of her mom, herself a pale thin smudge
Smothered in black, yet bone upright
In a tight anonymous room.
Such bright flowers of sorrow!
How brave our classmate seemed!
Out of the blue, one day she came back
Unremarkable to us as before:
Nothing to do with the absurd—
From day one we had been warned
He had fallen not at war but in ice cold peace;
Nothing to do with a daughter’s heart,
Drip by drip moored in dry dock
While her father sailed away—not forever—
On the great ship, Resurrection.
Touched, we children could not feel
Too long her loss. The Real Presence…
Bread on the water. SOS to Star Harbor.
The first poetry editor of two pioneer feminist magazines, Aphra and Ms., the poet Yvonne writes fiction under her full name Yvonne Chism-Peace. She has received several awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for her Iwilla trilogy poems. Some anthologies featuring her poetry are 161 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus), This Sporting Life (Milkweed), Catholic Girls (Plume/Penguin), Pushcart Press Anthology and the ground-breaking feminist We Become New (Bantam). Current work-in-progress is a verse memoir of the ‘Fifties, poems of which appear in the 2018 Quiet Diamonds (Orchard Street) and forthcoming issues of The WAIF Project and Bosque Press. Of the selected works published in Collateral, Yvonne writes, “Competing with the almighty western, World War II and the Korean War formed the film mythology of my childhood and adolescence. The Vietnam War was real, but all my drafted kinsmen came back and picked up the day-to-day struggles again…just like their more taciturn fathers and grandfathers.”