Individual Voices / Natural Forms

Winter, 2006

Louise Nayer

World War II

They say, “It strengthens me.”
They say it is an old man
who delivers the telegram with
stars on it. They say,
“My blood turned cold,”
and “I couldn’t move.”
But they say the war
strengthens them; they find
they can survive anything, though
the ones that lost so much
have a strange emptiness
in their faces,
and the Japanese woman
who carried a three week old baby
to a concentration camp in America
broke down and cried
and was embarrassed. 

They say lipstick companies
turned to bullets;
women and children wandered
looking for work.
That in letters overseas
you had to read between the lines.
That babies were born to fathers who were
huddled in the fields of Normandy
clutching their guns
as their wives suckled
sons and daughters. 

All they wanted
was to come home,
but coming home was filled
with nights of dreams.
“A time clock in his mind”
one wife said of her husband.
“He dreams of Normandy all the time.” 

And the new homes,
prefabricated, all the new things
coming off the production lines
that only months before had made
bombs, bullets, helmets, tanks and guns—
that nothing could make it
all right again.
America was a new country.
Everyone tried to be normal
so badly, it hurt
the corners of their mouths. 

And the woman who cried
still felt embarrassed
because no one was crying anymore;
or if they did
they had to get up quickly to
kiss it and make it better.
And America became a
kiss it and make it better country. 

The bandaids had stars and stripes,
and the kids wanted band-aids on everything,
even the slightest scratch.