Five Poems from "Snapshots Not from the Front:Meditations on Some Pictures from WWII

Home, 17 August 1942

When he passes what used to pass for home,
the boarded-up shops seem some other’s country.
The neighbors vanish in the night, and the children,

stunned among the rubble, search his eyes
for theirs. Someone has renamed the animals,
utterance mangled by silence.


Yanks, 17 June 1943


In this picture from their wedding,
she is a lieutenant and he is a captain, smiling
in the back of a jeep. We know where they are going

and sense the promises they hope to keep.
Three years later, she has her room and he has his,
and we can only imagine what came between them.

Always in her room, the knitting needles
and balls of yarn and half-made infants’ clothes.
Always in his, the nickels, dimes, and quarters

in three neat stacks upon the bureau, as the blind
and mute might measure change. And the Japanese flag
on the floor behind the bed, loud, large, and framed.


The CO’s Jewish Barber, 21 January 1941


This barber is one of the last of his kind.
He calls at the mansion borrowed by
your staff, and he is an accomplished magician,

performing sleight-of-hand for those who pause,
as we have here, for mystery. Every week
when you sit in his chair, he reveals an Oz

behind a curtain, explaining the levers of deception.
Now you can name his card. You can saw him in half
or make him whole again. The magic is not dispelled

by trying to know the secret, which, after all, is why
we are here, connecting one with another, hoping
to guess the trick of it, awaiting the execution.


Somewhere in Poland, 12 November 1940


You would rather not tend to this crowd, doctor,
in this car that once carried swine to slaughter.
You would prefer to wonder where your family are,

assuming they live, or try to recall the stages
of starvation you learned at university:
the atrophy of organs and muscle, the squalor

of the spirit. You wish to turn your back
to these creatures and view the icy landscape
through the cracked walls, listening

to the regular beat of steel wheels on steel track,
hoping to forget how that rhythm will slow
for yet another town and another pack

of burghers gathered to throw scraps of traif
at the starving and watch them murder for food.
So many towns. So many corpses you have dragged

to a corner and stared at her, at it, that watches you.
It sits straight up in all its rigor, its left arm raised
and slightly bent as if asking for its tea.


They Have Come for You, 14 July 1939

 
You hear them through the floorboards 
above, and they know where you are. 
Because they are many, you cannot fight. 
 
Because they are armed, you cannot run.
You have only your words. They will foam 
at your mouth and bake in the sun.






About the Author:
In June, Richard C. Freed will retire as a professor in the Program in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at Iowa State University. In his academic career, he has published The Variables of Composition, winner of NCTE's award for best research book in professional communication, and Writing Winning Business Proposals, now in its third edition from McGraw-Hill. In his very short career as a poet, he has written about four handfuls of poems, most of which have been published in journals like 2River View,The Adirondack Review, The Melic Review, and Blood Lotus.