Not Hitler's War
I might have been four or five
when Grand Pa Pa came to visit.
It happened at a time now kept
in my mind’s wobbly shadows.
He spoke no English; instead, he
managed a language called Deutsch,
sounds hidden deep in his throat,
as foreign to me as my own.
Mother said he came from a nice,
but faraway place called Germany.
Unlike everyone else I knew,
He only had an arm and a half.
I didn’t realize it then, but people
really do need both arms.
He had somehow lost his other half
in an earlier fracas, “not Hitler’s war,”
as Mother put it. She said we’d just
won Hitler’s war, not Pa Pa’s.
His lopped off limb was obvious—
shirt sleeve pinned up at the elbow.
A few weeks earlier, at a family picnic,
I’d lost a shoe kicking stones into a river.
It floated downstream and sank
while Mother, frantic, chased after.
In the end, I got a spanking for
being such a foolish boy.
I wondered if Pa Pa’s Mother had
spanked him when he came home
from fighting and losing half his arm.
It had nothing to do with foolishness.
Pa-Pa could tie his shoelaces with one hand,
a feat I could barely manage with two.
When Mother served him his morning
coffee in a cup and saucer, he quickly
poured it into the saucer to cool, and sipped
it there, a novel technique not of our home.
I still had much to learn about geography,
wars, coffee, arms, shoes and languages.
Pa Pa didn’t stay long, leaving Mom and me,
both still young, not long after Hitler’s war.
. . . j
from the Senses and More Such collection