back

top

END LIKE A SPONGE; RAINS OF YESTERYEAR; PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A DAD

Jeanne-Marie Osterman

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   

down

the deck.

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,

remembering trees,

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."