Vire-en-Champagne, April 1919

Two months shy of a century ago,

it had been raining in France,

great sheets snapping

like sodden flags across the farmer’s field;

a child of German immigrants,

my grandfather’s father

sits down in soldier’s boots, and,

looking at the crops with a farmer’s eye,

writes a few lines to his brother

in Barnesville, Minnesota.

He writes nothing

about the rescue of the Lost Battalion

after five days surrounded by Germans

in the Argonne forest; but

he jots a line asking Alfred

to tell Ma that he got through it all right,

he guessed;

he reports that the winter wheat

on the farm where they wait to ship out

was yellow, and poor.

He taps his pencil, then adds that

they’d been playing a lot of baseball,

because the Great War, the war to end all wars,

was done.

He pauses, looking at the field

where he doesn’t belong,

and finally asks how the Titan is running,

and whether they’ve planted, thinking,

probably, of the cold black soil

drinking up the snow melt and the angled sun

after a long, dark, Midwestern winter –

and of his flax seeds

tucked away in dry burlap –

thousands of furled messages;

He will come home

and bury them for ten days

until they reach up, and up, into the sky

that stretches lazily across the great Midwestern plain –

each blue flower will live only one day,

but hundreds and hundreds,

no, thousands of them –

will open in wave upon wave across the field,

answering the salute of the unbroken blue sky.


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