A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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I said, sitting up in my chair. “That’s it.”

“I swore I wouldn’t marry a soldier.

     Or go out with one seriously,” I said in a rush, because

it was only our third date,

               our first dinner out, and he was

not quite grinning at me over his wine,

     a look so quiet, fond, and intimate it

made lips and tongue forget what they were about.

“And here I am—”

“Marrying one?”

“Well, not quite— Oh, you,” I said, my mother’s phrase

               (what was happening to me?)

     “You’re making this harder

on purpose, aren’t you?”

“Never mind,” he said, still not exactly smiling, just

     hinting at it, his lips relaxed, one corner quirked up. I know

it’s women’s lips that are supposed to be beautiful;

what is lipstick for? And we all wore red lipstick

in those days, loud and unashamed. But Cory’s lips—well,

he had a beautiful mouth. I wanted to kiss him, right across

     the restaurant table. But instead, I managed

to keep talking. The food had come, rescuing us

     from an intensity

     all wrong for any restaurant, even one with

candles. The food gave us

something to do with our hands,

     our mouths.

I glanced at him across the table,

this young man who wanted to know

     what I had learned from war.

“If I can’t marry a soldier,

     neither can I marry

a man who hasn’t been one. Do you understand?”

Yes, he said, he understood, and by now

     his words formed themselves

               inside my head.

How could I have told him

what those years had been like

treating wounded soldiers,

if he’d never seen one,

never could have been one?

“It’s common ground,” he said, “for us.

We don’t have to explain it,

but we can talk about it.”




I’m not sure I ever did say

“Yes,” until the roses, and by then

it was settled. Well before that, we both knew

my answer. We drifted into

talk of being married, as we did

that night, when I caught myself saying

who I could or

     couldn’t marry, as if we were already

engaged. And so we were; fully engaged, wholly

engrossed; nothing distracted me, when we

were talking. His voice held my attention





But I could not go quietly; that

     would be too easy.

“What did you mean, Cory, when you said that

no one else has been here? Do you think the world just stopped

while you went off to war? Or all Montana,


He just looked at me, a way he had

     when I’d said something foolish. Didn’t

     argue or respond, just let me

               listen to myself. This time I shook my head,     

apologized, and said, “I do want to know,

     how it was.”

“I signed up

with two good friends, and guys were signing up

all everywhere, and girls too, as nurses,

WACs, all kinds of stuff. Hell, half the girls

I went to school with ended up in Billings

or in Butte to work in factories.

Some went to Boston, one to Washington.

But still, it feels that way, like everything

stood still, or else the whole damn place exploded.

It’s like—all that stuff, and all those people, are on

the other side of a wall.

I don’t know which is worse, to go back home

and find it all the same, blithely innocent,

like some nightmare land of peace, or find it

ripped and wrecked and raped and all the rest.”

“Hey, Cory. Come here, baby.”

I’d never called him that before.

All I could offer him, there in the restaurant,

     was my hand on the table. He took it and

               gripped hard.

You’d hear these stories: shell-shocked guy looks normal,

gets home in one piece, and goes to pieces,

bang. One guy turned his service revolver

on his family. They found him

barricaded behind the corner drugstore counter,

and when they dragged him out,

he kept yelling, “You bloody bastards!

You weren’t there, why weren’t you there!

You could have saved them! I was all by myself, I couldn’t do

a thing! You bastards, you rotten cowards—”

No, Cory said, that wasn’t it;

“I’m not afraid I’ll shoot my family.”

It was more as if he might be carrying

some infection with him, unawares,

the way the whites brought small-pox

and so made this new world

     too much like the old.

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