Thomas Lynch reads
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Odds are the poor man was trying to please her because her pleasure would have pleasured him, adding as it would have to his image of himself as a latter-day Man of Steel, able as always to leap tall buildings and off of whose chest the bullets would bounce, his five bypasses notwithstanding, nor withstanding how his heart had grown flimsy with hard loving and bereavement. Or maybe it was the Marine Lance Corporal in the snapshot of himself in the South Pacific he kept in the corner of the bathroom mirror: barechested in khakis and boondockers with Billy Swinford Smith from Paris, Kentucky, posing as always for the girls back home; the ready and willing eighteen-year-old who went from right tackle with St. Francis DeSalles to light machine gunner with the Corps and came home skinny and malarial later to marry the redheaded girl of his dreams who had written him daily through the war, beginning her letters with My Darling Edward and closing with All My Love Always, Rose. We found those letters, years later, in a drawer and tried to imagine them both young again, dancing to Dorsey and Glenn Miller tunes under the stars at the Walled Lake Pavilion before they had any idea of us. “Six sons,” he’d laugh, “enough for pallbearers! And girls enough to keep us in old age.” So when our mother took to her bed with cancer, it was, of course, the girls who tended her while my brothers and I sat with him downstairs, being brave for each other. When she died he knelt by her bedside sobbing, “Rosie, my darling, what will I do without you?” And grieved his grief like Joe DiMaggio who never missed a game and took a rose to place in the vase at her graveside daily then came home to sit in his chair and weep, those first nights without her thereby replacing as the worst in his life a night in ‘44 on Walt’s Ridge in Cape Glouster, New Britain, when he and elements of the Fifth Marines survived nine Bonzai charges. The Japanese foot soldiers kept screaming, kept coming, blind into the crossfire of light machine guns that he and Billy and Donald Crescent Coe kept up all night, aiming just below the voices. In the morning he crawled out of his hole to poke his bayonet among the dead for any signs of life and souvenirs. Whatever he found, he took no prisoners and always said he wondered after that how many men he’d killed, how he’d survived. He’d try to make some sense of all of it, but if he did, he never told us what it was. And now he is dying of heartache and desire. Six months into his mourning he became an object of pursuit among the single set of widows and divorcées hereabouts; the hero of a joke his cronies tell that always ends But what a way to go! Last night, mistaking breathlessness for afterglow, a woman nearly finished him with love and barely made it to the hospital where they thumped his chest and ordered oxygen. The Fifth Marines are off to war again. He watches CNN in ICU while Leathernecks dig trenches in the sand. The president says “No More Vietnams.” The doctors tell him “Easy Does It, Ed— six weeks, six months, who knows. It’s up to you. Avoid excitement, stimulation, sex with any but familiar partners.” He tells them “War is Hell. It takes no prisoners. A man must have something worth dying for.” The Persian skies are bright with bombs and fire. My father’s sleep is watched by monitors that beep and blink—his sore heart beating, still. I wonder if he dreams of soldiers killed in action—Japanese, Iraqis, old Marines who died for flags and causes, but in the end, among their souvenirs, we only find old snapshots of their wives and women friends.