You Stand To The Side Of The Barracks

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in your WAC uniform,
cap just a bit jaunty,
your smile aching to discharge.
You’ve seen the future
from this air base in Georgia
and you want to get out.

The German prisoners shouted
and beat on the walls all night
until the commander sent men
down with sticks to quiet the faces.
Soon after, the southern
birds began to chirp…

No one can know a woman
who knows she is going
back to live with her parents,
work all day at Kresge’s,
come home and clean.
No one touches the skin under the skin.

The French pilots peed off the plane,
singing ‘Oui-oui on the runway’,
their boyish faces ruddy in the round
wind. We knew their deaths
before they died, we wondered if
any last words passed between them
and their loved ones, waiting in the houses
and towns for the freeing bombs their sons dropped…

It was your first foray into you:
your self away from family,
deaths only you could know.
Day after day, you watched the pilots
from your tower, called out their numbers
with your radio, tried not to imagine
them slowly drifting to earth
in a silk parachute, their eyes
and hands and shoes shot off.

The men who were due to ship out
flirted the most; their eyes seemed
to leak sunshine. At dusk, they would fly
their planes at treetop, as if
by defying death in practice,
they could defy it when it came
blasting from a Krupp Flak 36,
the deadliest tall gun the Nazis had.

You came back to Austin
in one piece, your uniform stashed
away, the letters burned
with the trash. You took up
your old job, counting the numbers
every day, then walking home
to eat supper, wash dishes,
make the beds of the roomers,
listen to Grandma’s rants,
pray the Rosary on your knees,
hope for a life outside your own.

When the war was over
the equipment shipped out,
and the paperwork filed,
we disinfected the barracks:
walls, floors, the slats
that held the mattresses.
We heard they were going to convert
it to a prison, a dormitory for
migrant peach pickers, some kind
of training camp for boys coming home
with less than two arms or two eyes…

Like Dad, you didn’t talk much
about the war. If you mourned
the men you had known, or missed
your fellow WACs smoking cigarettes
outside the barracks, you kept
it hidden from your children—
like the Easter chickens you kept quiet
until the morning we received them: birds
dyed pastel blue, red, green and yellow.
But the way you laughed when
we saw the photo, the way you
would pick it out of the album
and hold it close to your face
meant someone else was standing there:
who were you posing for, mother,
on that winter day in Georgia,
your hair peeking out from under your cap,
your painted lips ready to speak?

Patrick Cabello Hansel’s poems, stories and essays appear in over 30 journals, including Red Earth Review, Ilanot Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Sojourners. He has received awards from the Loft Literary Center and the MN State Arts Board. Patrick’s novella, Searching, was serialized in 33 issues of The Alley News.

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