The fierce, grey whistle disturbs
commonplaces of an Iowa morning: linens,
rolled in soaking wads, drip
through a varnished wicker basket;
across the yard, red, soapy hands
skirmish in terry cloth, then ascend
to snatch a glazed crock of macaroons
off of an oil clothed cupboard shelf;
elsewhere, the morning’s fritters, fresh
with grease, wrapped in towels
and patted down, expire
a scent of cinnamon as slanting rays
variegate the paper sack.
Stumbling, waving, guffawing with benevolence,
all the gay civilians rush
down the weed and hollyhocked slope
toward the gravel and cinders of the railroad bed.
Across the clearing, clustered
in pairs, threes, and fours
within grey rubber windowframes,
fifty thin, sunburnt faces,
astonished and smooth,
project a strain or gravity despite
the overwhelming camaraderie
apparent in the onslaught of smiles and victuals.
“Must be recruits,” reasons one welcomer, noticing
the nonplused gazes drifting through
each of the coaches’ smoky panes.
Beads of cream buoyed atop
swirling seas of icy milk
slosh to the brims of the sweating bottles
a slim, red haired housewife in sleeveless blouse
hugs to her breast with her freckled arms.
A single GI, machine gun in hand,
fills the small doorway, wordlessly
commanding the iron step.
“Algona,” whispers a scrawny man,
cradling cartons of Chesterfields in his only arm.
“These boys must be headed for Algona, now.”
The small throng hesitates
before dispersing, straining to glimpse
the enemy’s distinguishing mark, or perhaps
pentimenti of lineage left behind
years before in the Fatherland.
The locks are military; chins and jaws,
lean as farmhands’; collars, smart.
Their eyes are neither cruel nor kind,
disclosing nothing more
than a tense bewilderment, a nervousness
these lingering Iowans have already recognized
as precisely the estrangement
their fritters, milk, smokes, and macaroons
always managed to arrest and assuage
before these same steel wheels unlocked,
jerking other immaculate companies
toward conflict and its aftermath.
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Copyright © 2008 by Bradley Steffens
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