Charles Rossiter

Memorial Day

A hundred faces of my father
talked World War II on television
specials last night, big band sounds
in the background of rosy the riveter,
loose lips sink ships, jitterbug days
of rations and sacrifice, victory
garden and Times Square victory
celebrations when the Axis
got the ax.

Outside Myopic Books
on Milwaukee Avenue
an old black man, about the age
my father would be, moaned
like a Tuvan throat singer as he
preached and waved at his demons.
Wicker Park yuppie couples
lined up waiting to brunch
mostly looked the other way
but he was loud enough
to be heard in the back
of the history section.

Near the entrance to Humboldt Park
the ice cream wagon was already
in place, a pickup truck vendor
was hanging out his array of
Puerto Rican flags
in the drizzling rain.
Two men were taking huge
potted plants out of a green
dented van while their partner
put up a sign that said
“5 bucks a piece.”

A t-shirted young man
leaned slumped asleep
on a nearby bench
with his arms folded
much the way Mike and I
slept out on park benches
in downtown Baltimore,
Mike who joined the army
to get out of the factory
went to Alaska, then went
to college and disappeared
so thoroughly not even a friend
with all the megahertz in heaven
can find him.

Five teenage boys with nowhere to go
were hanging on the corner
slouched in various poses of casual disrespect
repeating history the way we relived
zoot suits and peg pants, ducktails and goatees
hollering “go” and burning to get out
to what we knew was waiting for us
anywhere but here.

It’s Memorial Day and all over
America people are wearing poppies
putting wreaths on graves
and giving thanks that the fuhrer
got what he deserved and democracy
was preserved and that the millions
of fathers dead and undead didn’t fight
or die in vain.

Here in Chicago, a slow rain
glosses over buildings and streets
with a silvery sheen and I
get the feeling
the world looks so fresh
and new washed it’s age
doesn’t show–as if
it’s barely been lived in and
hasn’t been through
what it’s been through
swept so clean we could almost
start over again.