Poem: Shell Shock

For Samuel Menashe, World War II soldier and poet

I read in the newspaper
about a poet who returned
from World War II,
amazed to hear people talk
about what they might do
next summer, or the year
after next year, years of plans
they were making,
innocent of the sheer impossibility
of a belief in continuity.
On the December morning
of the Battle of the Bulge,
he was one of a company
of one hundred and ninety-seven men.

By evening, twenty-nine remained.
I think these days about shell shock,
its denotative power
to explode the supermarket’s
neon-bright oranges
at the precise moment
we lean over them,
hand outstretched,
or a belief that the breath
I take, right now,
is all there is
all there can be.

Yet the poet insisted
in the story,
“Don’t make me grim,”
and to me, he wasn’t,
appearing, instead,
to bear within himself
one moment,
untouched by time,
rounded, whole,
with whatever light there was
on that December morning
when he and all his men
were still alive.

This was originally published in the Sewanee Review, Spring 2014.

Holly St. John Bergon has published poems in the Sewanee Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Ploughshares, Terra Nova, College English, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, and elsewhere. For many years, she taught courses in English composition, modern poetry, and creative writing at the State University of New York–Dutchess Community College.

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