LS (2/11/1943 / Mingo Junction, Ohio)

A Story Of War

A Story of War
Larry Smith

My grandson and I visit the history museum.
He is six and always asking, so we
tour the cases, a war for each one,
beginning with 1812, fought off-shore on Lake Erie.
But what has drawn him into history’s web
is the Civil War, book images of men
in a field wielding swords and bayonets
and long rifles—“How many inches, Grandpa? ”

I am a pacifist, a veteran of no wars,
yet I walk with him and his questions.

Two days ago we strolled the Confederate Cemetery
on Johnson’s Island, where men locked up men
and buried those who could not survive.
And what is left are head stones and small Rebel flags,
a tall statue of one with his long gun—
put up by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

A young boy and an old man among headstones,
I try to explain to him and myself
the reasons for that war and others.
And he looks up at me in mid-sentence, in that
field of graves and says, “Grandpa, I would not
risk my life to kill another person”—That simple
and true to his own innocence. I tell him
I honor their bravery but not their killing.
“Right, ” he says, and we let that moment stand
as our being together on a battleground.

We trade the museum for lunch in a diner.
Over milkshakes and burgers, he says,
“Grandpa, I love the war.” And I, “You do? ”
“Not the killing. Not that, but your stories
of the battlefields.” I somehow know
and let it stand, a truth between us.

Silent on the long drive home,
I turn to say, “I love you, Adam.
I am not going to die for a long time.”
And he answers back, “Never.”

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