END LIKE A SPONGE; RAINS OF YESTERYEAR; PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A DAD
END LIKE A SPONGE
Kerama Retto, Okinawa, Japan March 27, 1945
A Japanese pilot breaks through the picket
and crashes on my father’s ship.
The pilot pops out of the cockpit, and bounces
He’s just a torso—
the end like a sponge filled with blood.
It’s the sea.
Something in the sea is calling us back to be
the baglike creatures we
once were, big-mouthed and happy
to engulf our food all day.
Then came suicide pilots and battleships—
guns as long as the Doug firs that line I-5.
Eleven killed plus the pilot.
Missed my father by twenty feet.
The sea, the sea,
we all come from the sea.
The sailors wrap the torso in canvas.
With no limbs or skull
he’s nearly square—
a bag of cement.
They say a prayer and lower him
into the sea. My father,
doesn’t know why he’s alive.
RAINS OF YESTERYEAR
Where did you go, JDO,
in your rag of a shirt
and oil-stained pants,
out back of our house on Rainier,
another rainy Saturday,
heaving mildewed magazines,
warped boards, my busted up high chair
into the flatbed trailer.
I’m there now,
shivering in the damp,
watching you hitch the load
to our ’48 four-door Ford—
my day to go to the dump with Daddy,
my job making sure the tongue coupler
stays hooked to the ball as we bounce
over the railroad tracks
and broken streets of Riverside.
I can see you now, JDO,
ferrying the load through the mud
to a mountain of trash
that won’t burn clean
for the constant drizzle.
I see you hurl in the big pieces,
then shovel the dregs.
I hear you say,
By dusk, this’ll be a moving carpet of rats,
not afraid I’d be afraid.
PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A DAD
The gin martini his think drink, Mom ices
the shaker every night as he comes up
the walk from work. Captain Puget’s
running the cartoons on KOMO— Felix
the Cat and Chilly Willy. I’m seven. It’s
Friday. Waiting for fish sticks. I’ll break
every bone in your body if you don’t turn
down that TV, he says. I picture his hands
busting me up, bone at a time, as Gooney
Bird crushes Chilly with a mallet. He
drains his martini at the dinner table, tells
me I have a chokin’ size neck rising with
smoke of Old Gold.
Jeanne-Marie Osterman is from Everett, Washington. She is the author of There's A Hum (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in Third Wednesday, Bluestem Review, California Quarterly, and other journals. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Levis Prize from Four Way Books, and in 2018, she was a finalist for the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. She lives in New York City.
"These three poems are about my father, a combat veteran of World War II who lived most of his life in Everett, Washington. They’re part of a full-length manuscript about his combat service, and my relationship with him as a child and during his final years in assisted living.
I didn’t know that my father had survived a kamikaze attack and shore battery during the Battle of Okinawa until well into my adulthood. Learning about what he’d been through helped me understand him better. While these poems, and the book, are a personal story, I hope they’ll resonate for anyone looking back on a lifetime relationship with a parent."