This is one of my most personal poems, dedicated to my grandfather. Like the previous poems posted here, this was published in the literary magazine of Rowan University in the 1990’s.
Photographs and Memories
(for Pop Pop)
I remember finding the tattered snapshots
in a dresser in the guest room of Mom Mom’s house,
old, black and white pictures,
delicate, flimsy, warped photographs
of you as a World War II soldier
posing with various men in your squadron,
along with photographs depicting battle-torn fields
blanketed by blizzards of debris
where cities had once stood,
and one vivid picture of a building
in which the second floor had replaced the first.
Your handwritten descriptions
in decaying blue ink,
addressed to Mom Mom with love,
occupied the backs of the photographs.
I remember how well you looked in these photographs,
young, thin, handsome, vibrant, happy,
in sharp contrast to my childhood memories
of a heavy, gentle, gray-haired man
whose brain suddenly exploded
like a carefully hidden land mine.
I remember visiting you in the hospital.
Sometimes you saw me as a baby and
sometimes you saw me as a young man.
Sometimes you saw me and asked me who I was.
Sometimes you were calm and
sometimes you were volatile.
Sometimes you laughed and
sometimes you cried.
Your emotions were at war with your memories.
I remember Dad taking long walks,
staring at dead, brown autumn leaves
blowing in the whining wind
above sparse, hollow, dying grass,
as Mom dragged me the other way.
I remember the front yard of your red brick house,
playing ball with Nicky
on a hot summer day when
the garage roof snatched our ball
and our parents would not help us,
but you immediately fetched a ladder
to retrieve the ball.
A seemingly insignificant memory
it is among my most cherished,
my only concrete memory of you before the aneurysm.
I remember eighth grade English class
when Aunt Sherry pulled me out
to tell me that
you had finally lost your long battle
you were at peace.
I remember crying at the funeral.
I don’t know if I cried more for you or for Dad.
Despite his best efforts
he could not hide his suffering,
nor could Mom Mom or Uncle Nick
or any of those whose lives you touched.
They were not ready to tell you goodbye.
I remember photographs
of all your grandchildren being buried with you.
I remember placing a rose
on your closed casket
that merged with the other roses
to form a blood-red blanket
that covered your shiny black coffin.
I remember the American Flag.
I remember traveling with my family
to the cemetery every Christmas,
standing in the biting cold
and warming your grave
with a blanket of flowers.
Recently, Mom Mom had a picture of you
in your World War II uniform
reprinted and framed
as a Christmas gift to Dad.
Your picture still stands proudly at attention
on Dad’s dresser
an otherwise dark room.
Sometimes I venture into his room
and stare at your picture through watery eyes,
wishing I could remember you better,
but thanking God I remember you at all.