Sandbag (July 4, 1952)

As I reworked my father’s stories into poems, several themes emerged. Luck, good or bad, was one of them as shown in the poem below. This is the fifth poem in the collection.


Sandbag (July 4, 1952)


Like we were still in World War I, we pushed
along in inches, started digging yet
another line of trenches. Frank and I
were lucky, found a hole knee deep already
from those retreating Commies, so we let
our axes rest; even monsoon rains
didn’t soften up those mountain rocks.


The others dug their foxholes in their sleep,
and soon we commenced to scritch and scratch.
Frank’s head was well below the surface,
and I was catching sandbags he’d toss up
to build our bunker walls; we planned to put
a plank on top and leave a hole to shoot
out from, protect our grapes the best we could.


We slogged along all afternoon until
from in the earth I heard Frank’s flood of curses.
I wondered if he’d chopped through his own foot.
It wasn’t that. He’d only been surprised:
a hand that he’d dredged up laid at his feet.
One of ours, or one of theirs? It didn’t matter.
Frank buried it and we got back to work.


Up came a bag I caught like all the others,
but at that perfect second as it landed
in my hands, a sniper’s bullet punctured
what should have been my chest. The force of it
bounced me back as dirt bled from the bag.
I jumped in with Frank; we took a break
and hoped to hell that we weren’t in our grave.