My Father On His Shield

Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped
and brittle.I can't bring my father back.
Legs crossed, he sits there brash

with a private's stripe, a world away
from the war they would ship him to
within days.Cannons flank his face

and banners above him like the flag
my mother kept on the mantel, folded tight,
white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue.

I remember his fists, the iron he pounded,
five-pound hammer ringing steel,
the frame he made for a sled that winter

before the war.I remember the rope in his fist
around my chest, his other fist
shoving the snow, and downhill we dived,

his boots by my boots on the tongue,
pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinking
and squealing.I remember the troop train,

steam billowing like a smoke screen.
I remember wrecking the sled weeks later
and pounding to beat the iron flat,

but it stayed there bent
and stacked in the barn by the anvil,
and I can't bring him back.

by Walt McDonald

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