A lot of poets, before they read, tell a story or anecdote about why they wrote their poem. Sometimes the story is longer than the poem itself. This act is often called marinating. To be honest, most of the time, marinating does not help your poem. Last night though, two poets very effectively marinated their work. They each told a very personal story, put themselves out there, and shared some brilliant work.
Since this is my blog, and I rarely do this, here is a bit of marinating. For the past few months I've been trying to research the army career of my Great Uncle. He was killed in action during the late stages of World War Two. He was nineteen. His death had a serious impact on my father's side of the family. My Grandfather was devastated by his death. Never spoke about him, only asked my parents if I could be named after him. My Great Uncle was one of twelve children. First there was a boy, my Grandfather, then ten girls, then my Great Uncle. Irish-Catholic, if you have not guessed.
So I've been trying to find out about his unit, the circumstances of his death, with a little luck I've found out the activities of his division but have been unable to find anyone living who knew him. Last week after a four month wait I finally received his individual personal death file from the National Archives. The information I hoped to see was not there. Eighty five pages in a PDF file gave me little else to go on. World War Two veterans are not getting any younger, they're dying every day and I think I'm losing the people who served with him, if they're not gone already.
Here's what I've written about him, still a bit rough.
My Great Uncle and his Inventory of Effects
One wallet soaked in the Rhine with the blood of soldiers form both sides
One identity card: In case of capture, break out.
Be grateful you were not captured by the Japanese
One souvenir note: Francs to buy beer with, for the grateful girls you kissed
Five souvenir coins; to give to the French children the way you gave away Good Humor ice cream to the kids in Brooklyn when you were the neighborhood Ice Cream Man
One cigarette lighter, no name, because a tin of cigarettes were included with your c-rations.
You did not care if the tobacco killed you.
In your case, it did not matter
Two religious medals: They protected you at Anzio, on D-Day, but not on March 26th, 1945.
One Wearever fountain pen, to write your brother, my grandfather
Eighteen photographs. One of you and two of your buddies walking through the streets of a French town you helped liberate
Another of an infant we guess was yours, but where or with whom, no one knows. The easiest path to the child, you left in your grave at St. Avold.
The other sixteen pictures were missing, lost for years traveling from Germany, to France, to your dead father's home in Brooklyn where it was returned to sender, to a government warehouse in Kansas City.
Returned years later the pictures are scattered among family who do not talk.
Who think that grief should be kept in a vault, turned into a puzzle that future generations will not be able to reassemble.
The PDF file from the National Archives I waited months for, it details the fate of your remains, it cannot speak.
I look through newsgroups on the internet, hoping for a mention of Company A.
Scan pages of a now overdue inter-library loan, looking for time, or a face that may be yours, and that of a veteran who may still be capable of remembering you
But all I see are obituaries of men in their nineties
As for trying to know anyone who fought alongside you, age has taken away what the war did not
He was only nineteen, and I do not want to forget someone who shares my name, but never knew.