Susan Deer Cloud
I am a mixed lineage Catskill Mountain Indian who has returned to live in the mountains after many decades of living and traveling elsewhere. I call these the Manitou Mountains after the spirit and mists that pervade them, and I feel an affinity for the lingering panther presence here. I knew before I was sent off to school that I had been born a poet and storyteller, and over the years I have had countless poems and stories published in literary journals, anthologies, and books including my recent Hunger Moon and Fox Mountain. I have received such honors as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, especially gratifying given some of the harder seasons in my life when I created in poverty and solitude. https://sites.google.com/site/susandeercloud/
Author's Note: When I was writing this tribute poem to my father successive memories came as high tidal waves into my mind, not easy to calm into conveying my essential love and respect for him. I regard myself as one of the fortunate daughters for I was born to one of the good fathers, a man who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in the so-called “Good War,” and afterwards tried to create a life for his wife and children that embodied peace, love, and understanding (as a first cousin put it to me, “Your father was the original flower child”). My father read to me from the earliest age I can remember, and I still have the plush high-back rocking chair I sat with him in as he rocked and transported me into the enthralling universe of story and poetry. How I wish he could have lived to see me writing my poems and fictions in that very chair, and to read my work in published form such as “Veterans Day, Old Pictures” in Verse-Virtual.
Veterans Day, Old Pictures
to my father, Joseph Rudolph Hauptfleisch (1924-1975)
Some Veterans Days I look at
old pictures of my father, cupping
sepia or Kodak black-and-white
to my hands’ heart and fate lines
broken before I was even born
to a Daddy wounded in the
“Good War,” that handsome
fresh meat in Marine uniform
who fought on Vella Lavella,
months later was shot on Guam.
Other Veterans Days I gaze
at nothing, if lucky
in a place where I can’t hear
a parade or feel my heart shake
from military drums and trumpets,
or have taps tear into my ears,
hurting more than politicians’
speeches like islands of clichés.
The nothing days hurl me
back to the nights before
pictures, to the little girl
lying still as a corpse in bed,
her father crying out
from nightmares on the other
side of the wall he painted
pink as the lip of that big
conch shell he found
on some beach, a soft color
for me he dreamed would have
freedom forever, never war.
In the few photographs
from my father’s young years,
there exist no pictures of 3 a.m.
screams or the fragments
my mother spoke, “Malaria,
pleurisy, night sweats, safe
now, get you cooled down,”
his horrors and her attempts
at healing until their voices ebbed
and I could lift my head in hope
that my Daddy would stay alive.
None of the Kodak images show
twin round scars on his chest
and back, white as binary stars
from where the Japanese sniper’s
bullet hit him sprinting through
surf onto Guam’s coral beach,
impossible to dig foxholes in.
The pictures were as quiet
as he was about the battles,
never one to brag about fighting,
a man who told me just once,
“I was stupid about war when I
joined the Marines, so young
my immigrant parents had to
sign for me eager to keep
their new country free.”
No 1940s snapshots show
Marines jammed together,
sweating in a boat nearing Guam,
“We didn’t speak, we all knew
most of us would be wounded
or dead before the day ended.”
Veterans Day again approaches,
trees shed leaves three weeks past
October first, date my father
was hit by a heart attack at fifty one.
“The family doctor said the wound
would shorten his life by twenty years,”
my mother confided. I kissed his
forehead where he lay in a coffin,
still as I once lay, embalmed skin
hard as coral. I was twenty four.
A boy played taps, a second echoed,
when our Marine was lowered into
a hole in a mountain graveyard.
My three brothers, sister, Mom and I
cried while trying to bury our faces.
On Veterans Day I might look at photos
of him before he decided to be brave.
©2015 Susan Deer Cloud