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Susan L. Leary

Fraipertuis

 

Scenes like this were common:

planks ready for building but having endured the opposite,

heaps of rubble

heaped as if intentional, life in black

and white.  Everywhere, aisles of human remains:

three and four story buildings,

the walls entirely

blown out,

so all that’s erect is construct and vague ideas of former activity,

for you, that of female souls,

a mother in the center of the living

room, her hair gathered in a handkerchief and knotted

at the nape, bent over a coffee table

about to dust it.

Walking through, you are young

but act like old men, carrying not guns or boots or medical

supplies, but the threat of self-made noise:

hand to pocket,

sole to gravel,

breath to atmosphere,

and later,

at an abandoned starch factory, its makeshift tables in wait of bodies,

the flickering of candlelight.

It is the first night,

but nothing about this is dress up:

no curtain raised, no recognizable transition,

only room made as someone is rushed in,

buttons torn,

flesh reached,

an artery clamped

with immediate improvisation, everyone crouched

knees-over-boots,

heads huddled,

not getting it yet, none of you, how, pushing morphine,

you are to become a prop of comfort,

the kind that

accompanies casualty.

So I’m wondering how,

later, it gets decided—and by later,

the span of a few days: who will wear the wig,

or hold the cane,

what to do with the detective hat,

or the one with, glued to its brim, looks to be a fabric daisy,

the petals exaggerated,

these things, as soon-to-be artifacts of your horseplay,

first noticed

from inside the government-marked box,

seeking exit,

so that among the crates and others boxes

and bags,

piled high, of grain, that box

tilted,

slightly, on its axis,

abandoned during the heavy fire in such a way—sticking out

and settled in,

though separate from the ruins—that guaranteed

your audience.

And yet, penciled on the back,

Company C actors of the 325th Medical Battalion—famous

among the locals,

and flipping it

to you and three others—yourselves

yet costumed,

it disappears, any reason, for you to be in Fraipertuis.

This image, there is no implication of war,

only camaraderie without context:

guffaw, grunt, bellow, the last leaning in, his leg kicked back

for effect,

as if home, grabbing a drink, something funny

just said,

nothing feigned in the ritualistic man-hoot of insider knowledge,

the slap of the counter,

or that quick brute contact,

so as to not pass that threshold where men are no longer themselves

but men.

Then the clang and ricochet of the glass:

cheers before tomorrow,

when midday, you will bring to life Tec Sergeant Seebeck

and Pfc Webb, no script, no devising,

no hunt for substance, only parody—artless

is its material, and to even notice,

artless—

so that out there,

what’s left of the city your stage,

a slab of cobblestone intact,

its people, who, you have only imagined, crawling from their graves

to rejoice in a scene in which you are you

but your comrade,

knowing, for the first time, what it’s like to be known,

without knowing

that you are.

A scene in which you are neither of these people:

not a soldier, not a man who will take his own life

when he returns home.

______________________________________________________________

Susan L. Leary is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL.  Her recent creative work is forthcoming in After the Pause.

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