War Stories

I never knew one of my grandmothers 
except by her first name, old-fashioned and sweet, 
like a pastry no one makes properly anymore: 
Filomena. My mother was six and her sister three, 
when someone ran into the village with news 
her only brother had been captured 
by the Japanese soldiers. During wartime, 
such distress is enough to make 
the heart stop beating. 

And I never knew one of my grandfathers except, 
also, by his first name: Alex, which makes me wonder 
if it was short for Alexander. It was hinted that he didn't 
stay around to raise any of the children he fathered, 
which is why I had no stories to add to my family 
tree homework—only a blank rectangle 
penciled in where he was supposed to be.

Their children lived, somehow, through two wars: 
the first one an invasion; the second, a war of liberation. 
Because they hid in the church, they know that underneath 
new tile and blood-red carpet, there used to be a crack 
right down the middle of the aisle. When they left 
their homes, running from the rain of bombs, one of them
carried a pair of socks but forgot his shoes. Another 
couldn't explain how it came to be that he'd lifted 
the rice pot off the stove, still warm and steaming. 

There are ghosts inside every bell tower, or walking
the now clean hospital halls. In front of every
flagpole in every square, pigeons peck at shadows
where prisoners were lined up for execution.
Every stone an old name, a story.

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