1968

By Wendy Galgan

for Steve Bogart

 

Penn Station.  Six a.m.

Duffle bag in hand,

the boy waits,

a volunteer among conscripts.

These young ones offer

gruff introductions, firm

handshakes all around,

unaware that each mimics his

father’s tone, smile, stance.

 

The news from California has begun to

filter East.  A rumor

when they left their homes,

garbled facts now

gleaned from transistor radios

passed along the way.

Two men – dark suits, felt hats –

stride past the knot of

boys on the platform.

Words leap like dolphins from their wake:

“unbelievable. . Bobby. . .their poor mother. . .”

The boys, silent now as birds at a cat’s passing,

lean toward the men, then stiffen, shuffling,

red-faced at the command to board.

 

New York to Washington –

the boys begin to settle in.

Loud chatter fades to quiet conversation.

Past Washington, nothing but

backyards, clotheslines,

piles of trash spilling down embankments.

Rickety porches and rusted fire escapes

frame broken windows and boarded-up doors.

Now the train stops in each small town.

 

As the boy watches, silent in his window seat,

a flag-draped box is unloaded at the first stop,

and the next, and the next.

Each time, an officer – his hand laid on the box’s

lid – accompanies it to the platform.

Three, five, six stops later,

a box for each stop.

And with each mile,

the boy gets closer to rice paddies and rotor wash,

further and further from

his mother’s voice, his father’s smile.

___

Wendy Galgan is Assistant Professor of English at St.Francis College in Brooklyn.  Her poetry has appeared in print journals such as California Quarterly and The AFCU Journal and on the website On Earth As It Is.  Her poem “Burning Angels: March 25, 2011” is in the anthology Villanelles (edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali).  She is editor of Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters and Director of SFC’s Women’s Poetry Initiative.


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