Walter Bargen: "War Feathers"




My father somewhere in the Korean War.

My mother and I outside Cincinnati

living in a trailer.  I have a black

and white photo of him beside the lamp

next to my bed.  He's dressed in dusty fatigues,

the pockets of his baggy pants, I think

filled with air, as if he was about to rise

off the frozen ground and be blown away,

but that wouldn't happen for another thirty years. 

He's posing, his body slightly turned, his arm raised,

elbow bent so his hand is level with his shoulder,

as he holds the polished metal of a .45.


Was it the same year I lay in bed with food poisoning? 

How suffering bookmarks a year.  That summer

I was playing "Go Fish" with my grandfather.

He and my great-grandfather always cheated,

one looking over my shoulder, signaling to the other

what card not to choose.  Mad, I stormed off

the porch and ran across Virginia Avenue,

looking up at the telephone lines, anxious, waiting

for a call from a bullet-proof father to rescue me.


Perched on the black looping line a twittering banana

peel, no a singing drop of gold, no a bird,

and when I ran to tell my grandparents, they didn’t

believe me, but persistence brought them

to the front yard, where they took off their hats

and began throwing them at the bird, hoping

to frighten it down. Anyone who drove past,

seeing two old men throwing their fedoras high

into the air, would have thought them celebrating,

perhaps a son or grandson still alive, home early.



Walter Bargen has published thirteen collections of poetry.  His recent books are Theban Traffic (2008) and Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (2009).  He is the winner of the Chester H. Jones Foundation Prize in 1997, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1991, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2005.  He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).