Navy Boys: Montrose, Pennsylvania, 1942

by Kathleen Calby

Uniforms in boxes land on her doorstep,
and she must have a photograph.

Upstairs, the radio blares a pitch,
a strike. She hears the stomp, the cheer.
She calls to them. The game snaps off.
Steps thunder stair treads. When they leave,
silence will drop its covers everywhere.

In homefront windows,
small white tasseled flags appear.
Every family’s hearts revealed
as stars: one blue for each
who serves, one gold for each
dead. Three shine blue in her window.
The street hovers with stars.

Constellating her universe of war,
these boys, my father one of them,
stare into the cyclops’ eye
of the future. But they don’t know that
yet. It’s just a camera, their father behind it.

She stands in the doorway, arms folded.
Her boys jockey for the sofa’s seats. Nothing
can harm them, they believe. Her body shudders—
she has led them to that belief. She tries
a smile, but her lips are thin. She’s seen
the newsreels, read the lists in print.

An image survives. She knows this,
but how to compare the weight of bones,
of flesh, to what does not age. No more
than paper developed in red light, silvered,
into black and white. Bodies that cannot
long be preserved, given another life—

as everything becomes paper—orders,
letters, reports. Her boys reduced flat
as an unimagined world.
Punches and play moments before
it was snapped—sailor collars not quite
straight, tie knots slack, lace curtains behind.
They want to go back to the radio’s ball game
or ship out tonight. Three dark-haired Irish boys.

They have no pictures yet, but they will
as friends’ torsos rip, arms detach, ships shroud
in smoke, lifeboats capsize, kamikazes dive,
shrieking as hornets, the smell as shells explode.
They will return, these oh-so-young men,
but not like this. Their eyes in the photo now
look as if silver dollars placed there, shine.

Kathleen Calby, former corporate writer, now turns her language to poetry. Published in San Pedro River Review, Susurrus, Willows Wept Review, her poems have received awards from Kakalak and Pinesong, and one is a 2022 Rash Award (Broad River Review) finalist. Kathleen also received a 2021 Gilbert-Chappell mentorship with Jessica Jacobs. When not writing, she enjoys playing singing bowls, gardening, a short hike and a long cup of tea.