Susan Gunderson

Old Soldiers


The small porch is austere,
two pairs of shoes the only decoration. 
I add mine to the line-up
gigantic in comparison.
The elderly Japanese couple
answer the doorbell with smiles
open wide as the door, 
big as their hearts.  
Husband and wife are giddy
as I lumber through their delicate 
house hoping not to break anything.
Finally we are safely seated 

on a patio in Honolulu, 
a city I don't like, in a climate I detest.
I want to wash my sticky 
hands and face but I don't ask. 

Instead I take Blackie's hand and 
look straight into his eyes. 
At eighty-six his tour of duty in that highly 
decorated Nisei Division is only memory.
 
He studies my face as I speak.
Is he seeing my dead father? 
Perhaps, but soon I realize that 
he is practically deaf.
He is at least three inches shorter 
than forty years ago when I first met him. 
Fate and war conspired for these men to meet
beginning a friendship spanning sixty years. 

Blackie tells how he offered to cut off 
the bottom of his sleeping bag and pup tent
so my father would have appropriate sized equipment. 
I love hearing this story for what I am sure is the last time. 
I ache for my father's presence, 
for both men to have ears able to hear again, 
to share one more visit 
spinning out their web of communal memory. 

I watch his shining eyes. 
Through my own damp ones I see two old soldiers 
sitting on a patio staring into each other's face—
remembering. 

—Susan Gunderson

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