[In the spring of 1994, I served as the discussion leader for a group of WW II veterans brought together by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Council on Aging as part of the “Remembering World War II” project.  Over the six weekly meetings what the men talked about and how they talked changed.  As they became a kind of community, they shifted from the anecdotes and stories they had seemingly shared in the past with friends and family to exploring, instead, things that they had seemingly never shared or kept forgotten.  The sequence “The Circle” attempts to reflect, and to reflect on, that transformation.]

from The Circle

First they share the things kept to hand—
like offering wallet pictures over beers
as the jukebox plays “In the Mood”:

FDR helped from a staff car, then leaning
on the podium as if propelling his voice
instead of holding himself up—

the smile so big you forgot to see
the steel braces, the trembling will of his arms,
and in that voice, that illusion of strength,

you are all each, yet

Or the night of Pearl Harbor,
north on the western coast:
thermos of coffee, deer rifle, shotgun

and binoculars as you watch
where the dark water fades into the absolute
dark that swallows even shadows—

waiting all that night for the troop ship
or submarine that did not come, December cold
and ready to defend the farmhouse up the hill,

the milk pails and kitchen stove—the ordinary
world resting in its different dark
from the one you watch, and next morning

hitching into town to enlist,
waiting your turn, lined along the sidewalk of shops
as if waiting for bread and a bowl of soup.

But not like that, not like the newsreels
as you’d wait for Roy Rogers to saddle up
or Gene Autry to sing “Silver-haired Daddy of Mine.”

Yes, in need but not needy.  Just quiet,
knowing this, too, was real,
like waiting for a bowl of soup was real

or riding your thumb, because you’d heard
there was work on up the road, how that was
real, or even the cows needing to be milked,

that too real.  And this saying Yes to duty
and country—real.  But the
other things

not yet Real.