BEAUTIFUL WRECKAGE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
RETRIEVING BONES; STORIES AND POEMS OF THE KOREAN WAR
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W. D. Ehrhart
Sins of the Fathers
Today my child came home from school in tears.
A classmate taunted her about her clothes,
and other kids joined in, enough of them
to make her feel as if the fault was hers,
as if she can't fit in no matter what.
A decent child, lovely, bright, considerate.
It breaks my heart. It makes me want to kill
someone. It makes me thinkó O Christ, it makes
me think of things I haven't thought about
in years. How we nicknamed Barbara Hoffman
"Barn," walked behind her through the halls and mooed
like cows. We kept this up for years, and not
for any reason I could tell you now
or even then except that it was fun.
Or seemed like fun. The nights that Barbara
must have cried herself to sleep, the days
she must have dreaded getting up for school.
Or Suzanne Heider. We called her "Spider."
And we were certain Gareth Schultz was queer
and let him know it. Now there's nothing I
can do but stand outside my daughter's door
and listen to her cry herself to sleep.
In the town of Freiburg, Germany,
cathedral shadows creep across the square
to where an American writer sits
admiring a scholar. "Doctor Ebel"
she had always signed her letters,
sounding just a little musty,
not vivacious, thirty-six, and unattached.
It must be nice to be a student
in a class of hers, he thinks,
wonders why she wears no wedding ring.
She asks about his wife and child.
He shows her recent photographs,
tells her how he calls them every day,
how glad he is he'll soon be going home.
"I envy you," she says, then looks away.
And then looks back and says, "One night
in World War Two, the German air force
bombed this town by accident. Tourist pamphlets
never mention that." Her voice a little hollow.
"You've been to war. I don't envy you for that,
but I envy you your wife and daughter,
how you wait impatiently for time
to reunite you. I was married once.
My husband left me for another woman.
"I was thinking how it must be nice
to look ahead and count the days
between you getting smaller by the hour.
"Days I count are always looking back."