Issue 17: Ronnie Sirmans

Young Men, Decades Apart

Conflict long ago brought me

to sign up early for war,

rushed to leave for a future

from the Warsaw Station

as Stalin’s tongue held them off

for a while, all of us now on

same footing, those told

to join, those allowed to ask

to join, as our enemies,

a crazy man’s regiments

with the harsh consonants

of language and looks,

braved our world,

countryside, Leningrad, Moscow.

Snowflakes piling up, dead.

And now, decades pass,

men pass, women too.

And what of these hands?

These hands that held

tightly to guns as mind,

my mind, held tightly to myself

as battalions, we, together,

crossed frozen lakes

and passed those not fighting

but going other ways

or deciding watching.

My pravnuk does not

understand as I tell

this tale, these tales,

this passing.  He rubs

the shiny piece of metal

looped at his eyebrow,

shrapnel, shrapnel

embedded but painless

much of the time,

much like a heart.

He never met great-grandmother;

the boy never heard our language

except for a few words

I sometimes scatter

without thinking, carelessly,

like seeds for birds.

Tattoos he has on his arms,

the flesh of the West,

children with so much color

on them, ink staining their skins,

their skin, much of it symbols

that make no sense to me.

Or anyone else, I think.

He skates on a board,

a skull on the bottom

that I see when he flies

through the air

with other boys, like birds

grabbing at seeds but

not really caring if they are

easy to digest or not.

He has lived here for longer

than we fought a war

that left dead in the streets

of our cities, making

the air even colder.

He is now nearing age, the age

when I took the gun, took

the papers, took the clothes

that many took up and on,

and helped turn back a man

crazier than all in the world.

I visit this land, where the skins

of boys are now their own uniform,

tight, short hair but not quite

short enough for service,

little beards on their chins,

gold or silver shining

from different places on their heads,

their bodies that run through life

while people go other ways or just

standing there watch them pass,

none knowing what enemies

they are fleeing or pursuing,

or what conflict I now feel

that makes me remember

I never got to soar through

the air as they do.  My feet

were always on the ground,

on the rocks, on the water

frozen, cold, hard, Russian,

strong, fighting, clean still.

We fought, and I want to tell

my grandson, even in his language,

this language that I have learned,

that my children know too well,

that can make the past seem

like a story and that’s all,

I want to tell him, listen

as you go, the enemy can be around

the corner.  The cold does not

stop as many hearts as it should.

But all I see is a gang of boys

running, rolling down the street,

flapping in the wind

with their big pants and

their bigger shirts,

their yells like bird-talk.

The boys rush faster into life,

past so many stone steps quickly

by sliding on the solid guardrail

that is meant to help old ones like me.

If I am grabbing onto that cold

metal as I walk down those steps,

step one old leg after another,

the boys will fly right over me.

Ronnie Sirmans is a newspaper editor, sometimes working alone at midnight and often writing headlines, trying to sum up long stories in a few words, which reminds him somewhat of poetry. His poems have appeared in Gargoyle, The Museum of Americana, Jewish Currents, BlazeVOX, Deep South Magazine, The South Carolina Review, and elsewhere.

Copyright © 2016 by Ronnie Sirmans, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.