For God and Country

by Kenneth Ashworth
The Writer's Block
Third Place, December 2021
Judged by Terence Culleton

Now I see my father at fifteen,
gangly in T-shirt and khakis.
On the back stoop is a galvanized
bucket of crushed Camels.

Four years later, he will join the Army
the Monday after Pearl Harbor.
They made him a ball turret gunner,
twin fifties, floor full of hot brass.

He speaks to me with string
and two tin cans. “Tell them I
did my duty,” he buzzes, “I did not
mean to bring the war home.”

I watched him live long enough
to lose his mind. In the burnished
glaze of spit-shine and boot-black,
you can almost see your reflection.

The turn at the end of this poem speaks of an inheritance. The father’s history, perhaps, is his own, but what it did to him serves as a kind of omen. “In the burnished/glaze of spit-shine and boot black,” the poet worries, “you can almost see your reflection.” Thus, the poem toggles between innocence and knowledge, as the father’s youthfully confident first-stanza presentation yields to the second stanza’s grim eventualities, then to the third stanza’s revelation, which comes to us in a voice imagined in boyish terms (“string/and two tin cans”) by the remembering poet—who, in the fourth stanza, knows too well not to be fooled by nostalgia or imagine that he or she is protected by it. This is a very complex look at a life—at once the father’s and the poet’s. --Terence Culleton