By Celeste Schantz
MIA I think of him when I pass what remains of the lot that used to be the A & P. He is there in cloud cool April his shirt crisp, checked, pushing slow metallic centipedes of carts in staccato clacks. Still, sometimes if I listen closely he whispers to me from the ivy shadows of the court house, and sometimes passing the doors of the old Orpheum or when I revisit Main Street, a whisper rises from the sun-seared grass to his house, shuttered, boarded up, silent as a sphinx. I see him peer out from the eyes of this stone boy in a fountain spilling dark water; he regards the faces of strangers at the diner, bowed behind their late noon glass. Not one of them, not one remembers his sculpted lips, the curls, the thin, birdlike shoulders of a child. Those that knew him moved away, we move away and like young children bicycling past, the years wheel out of reach, then everything new moves in. I try not to forget him but I do. I do. I will. Groom of dying light, Father of loss it must be this; sometimes a child ends up as sun on sidewalk stones, faded and low, dappled in evergreens. Who knows— he might have one day married someone here. See how these little girls skip across his shadow, never knowing. Shoebox Funeral I’m remembering the summer of 1967, early dawn; we kids are standing on the lake house’s wave-warped dock. We’re wide-eyed, drunk on motorboat fumes, huddled on the rosy sill of morning. Our faces blanch in the sudden flare of lit matches. Each page of the Times Union chars; the flame blackens the face of Nixon, of Ho Chi Minh; as almost-imperceptible alewives suckle concentric spirals on water and sky. We pay last respects to, of all things, a small Oriole that flew into the windshield of our parent’s old Buick. We praise this Oriole, the scarred rock beach, praise the chilly oracle of tides; the stench of seaweed; the pummeled wren house minarets that lean away down the shore— we just praise all of it. We bury you, yellow bird of magic, wrapped in yesterday’s headlines. We name you Jimmy—a bitter-orange bird, tiny talons curled like small hands. You’ve got a black crown. The newsprint sears, the box lowers and another American flag drapes a casket as the front-page face of our neighbor Corporal Jimmy Iannucci sinks through the shallows. If you looked hard now you could still see us standing hunched on that old broken clavicle of dock; inhale the scent of mushroom rot and smoke. Soon all of this would simply be a movie reel ticking in our heads. Where did we go? The lake house was sold in ‘72. It’s overgrown, a no man’s land of broken shells, small boned things, wild mint that strives to climb through quarry stones. Jimmy got a white marker at the Armory on South Street. Our cars drive past it now and then. These artifacts I rummage through in dreams, wondering when I learned to take death so automatically; to blithely raise this cup, take sips of morning coffee. O Wisdom – when did we grow old and learn to swallow grief?
Photograph is of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, New York, which commemorates the 280 Rochester natives who perished in Vietnam. It also represents American military personnel who succumbed to illnesses linked to the Army’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.