Prisoner of WarTracy Mishkin
in honor of Sgt. Joseph Bergsteinb. 1923
I. Older Sister
Daddy had a still in the basement, a rich man
as long as Prohibition lasted. I delivered whiskey
in the pram, the bottles tucked around Joey.
During the Depression, I dropped out, worked,
an elevator girl. Joe cleaned chicken coops
for quarters, grew from hungry boy to hungry man.
Nothing but the army to fill his belly. 5' 7''
and 110, he enlisted in the spring of ‘41.
We shipped out to the Philippines
with rusty Springfield rifles from the war
to end all wars. After Pearl Harbor, they bombed
our airfields. Landed at Luzon and Legazpi.
The colonel took the Tommy guns and half
our rations to his bunker in the woods.
Already hungry and sick, my men and I dug in
till we were ordered to surrender. Bergstein waved
his undershirt as we crept up the road. We heard
they don't take prisoners.
III. Filipino Witness
Sundalos struggle through town, limping
toward the prison camp. Thin men, torn
uniforms. The broken rhythm of their feet.
Rifle shots, the grunt of bayonets. We throw rice
wrapped in banana leaves. The children
bring water, dodging Hapón guards on horses,
who shake their swords. They shoot the men
who fall behind.
IV. Hohei, Soldier-Guard
Ten thousand horyo wait hours in the sun
for water. Wormy rice their only food.
Some eat the worms for protein. Cook
has a dog trap underneath the kitchen hut.
A man without a bowl will die.
No honor in surrender. Only haji, the shame
that runs deep. In monsoon season, horyo
stand outside, washed by rain. They cover
the faces of the dead with weeds.
V. American Medical Officer
I haven’t forgotten the time Bergstein and his do-good pals
washed that goner who’d shit his dysentery pants
and brought him back inside. At the camp hospital today,
they were scrounging sulfa drugs for some poor fool
with syphilis. I was off-duty and told them so. Cholera,
dysentery. Yes, we leave them under the barracks. Yes,
they’re going to die. Have you got a better way
to keep the rest of us alive?
VI. Bill “Stew” Stewart
When Allied planes began to bomb the Philippines,
the guards packed us in an old tub's hold,
heading north. We hunched silent on chunks of coal,
knees drawn up. Shoulder to shoulder, precious air.
We heard the ping of our subs hunting. The buzz
Rice came down in buckets on a rope. Sometimes
it broke, scalding us. We ate every sliver we found.
The shit-bucket passed on the same rope, slopping.
After a while, we lost our sense of smell.
Pinned on the far side of the hold, my buddy Joe
passed his canteen up for water, never got it back.
I sent him my spare. When a man died, it meant
more room for the rest of us.
VII. Civilian, Northern Honshu
Fifteen feet of snow on the trail
to Hanaoka town. Father and I worked
the mines. The dense, gray rock so hard
it bent the tips of picks. Horyo dug ore,
loaded carts, worked beside us as if
they were still men. When my cart jumped
the track, I told Joe to put it back.
He ignored me. Father beat him
with a chunk of rock.
VIII. Heroes of Bataan
Freed by the atom bomb, we sailed home,
gaining weight on Red Cross donuts. I still hadn’t
started shaving. We rode the hospital train
cross-country, drinking beer with nurses, bowling
oranges at liquor bottle pins.
The papers called us enlisted men “survivors
of Bataan”—the officers, “heroes.” They ran
for office on their war records. I went to college
on the GI Bill.
Things I Want Back Now That You’ve Left Me
Couples Like Us
Prisoner of War
POST-APOCALYPTIC YOGA, ALL LEVELS
When I Was an EMT, We Never Got in Any Trouble if a Patient Died, But if You Scratched the Side of the Ambulance They Would Fire You
Sometimes When My Wife Comes Home She Doesn't Kiss Me
This Poem is about a Small Town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and a College I Hated in Massachusetts
Leather and Velvet