In the partitioned bin that ordered
his wrenches and graduated calipers,
his spring-loaded screwdrivers, angled
needle-nose pliers, my grandfather
stored the saw-toothed bayonet
he’d smuggled back from France
after WWI. Lean and black, it was
heavy as a jack handle, and sometimes
after supper he’d lift it out, slide it slowly
from its scabbard, jab it and show me
how the Germans screwed it sideways
to yank out your intestines — like a Canuck
cleaning a quickly slitted muskie. Captured,
they’d sometimes have it done to them, he said,
our doughboys leaving them gutted, a warning
to any Komeraden foolish enough to follow.
All this capping two decades of nurturing
his only son’s death, my uncle, shredded
by machine guns at the Bulge, WW II —
the reason, it turned out, Grandpa had wanted
to crush the Huns for good, back when we could,
a full twenty-five years before his prophecies
of a Reich rising from the Weimar Republic
boomeranged as a special telegram knocking
at their front-porch door. By ‘64
I was only ten, and Viet Nam, not even
a protest, the first domino we’d never let fall,
Grandpa said, not this goddamn time around.
Alone under the bare bulbs illuminating
Grandpa’s meticulous workbench,
I’d cradle the bayonet, unsheathe it,
and search for blood-and-guts on the blade.
D. R. James is the author of the poetry collection Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street) and four chapbooks. The fourth, Why War, was released this month (Finishing Line) and includes the above poem. Other of James’ poems have appeared in anthologies, including Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford (Woodley) and publications such as Hotel Amerika, North Dakota Quarterly, Oberon, Passager, Rattle, Ruminate, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and Sycamore Review. He lives in Holland, Michigan, and has been teaching writing, literature and peace-making at Hope College going on 30 years.