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.

Wooden Boxes

Have you heard him shuffling through the streets,

Wooden Boxes,

On stumps of legs where shoes should be?

Wooden Boxes.

Each corner rounded below the knee

From rubbing against the rough concrete

On shuffling, dragging, grinding feet –

wooden boxes.

Have you seen pencils in his cup,

Wooden pencils,

Up and down being lightly tossed —

wooden pencils?

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,

Wooden Boxes,

Heard the thunder roll and crash?

Wooden Boxes.

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,

Wooden boxes,

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,

Wooden Boxes,

As you walked by with those held dear?

Wooden Boxes.

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,

Wooden Boxes,

And dropped a dime in his tin can.

Wooden Boxes.

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,

Wooden Boxes;

Or is that a game the people play?

Wooden Boxes.

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.

David Bellomy

Lake Havasu City


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