Editor: There were WWI veterans in my home town during the 1950s. One had wooden boxes fitted just below his knees. Another had been gassed and wore a canvas corset under his shirt – at which he scratched continuously until his buttons were torn away.
This poem is for them, and old friends from 1968.
Have you heard him shuffling through the streets,
On stumps of legs where shoes should be?
Each corner rounded below the knee
From rubbing against the rough concrete
On shuffling, dragging, grinding feet –
Have you seen pencils in his cup,
Up and down being lightly tossed —
When standing-up he was four feet tall,
A man condemned in front of the wall,
Who would guess he had seen it all
when he earned those wooden boxes?
Have you seen the lightning flash,
Heard the thunder roll and crash?
It was only the cannon’s roar,
Machine guns tapping at your front door
And all the times you deplored
filling those wooden boxes.
Have you guessed what he had seen,
Filled with young men’s broken dreams — wooden boxes.
They’d been punished for our sins,
But he had lived and been condemned
To stand each night as twilight dimmed
in those wooden boxes.
Did he dull your Christmas cheer,
As you walked by with those held dear?
An old felt hat pulled over his eyes
In vain attempt to protect his pride
While his rattling cup was calling wide
above those wooden boxes.
A little boy approached the man,
And dropped a dime in his tin can.
The man peered out from under his hat
At young blue eyes smiling back.
Eye to eye their gazes locked;
the shuffling of those boxes stopped.
And words poured forth without a sound
As people passed that hallowed ground
Too busy for a quick glance down
at those wooden boxes.
Do you think soldiers fade away,
Or is that a game the people play?
You were in this world for us to see
And to hear your silent screams,
Mute testimony to small boys’ dreams
in your wooden boxes.
Lake Havasu City