This was my uncle of the war

all those years after Vimy Ridge
after Amiens and Passchendaele
and all the other hellish places
where by rights he should have
died with his comrades of
the Fighting Twenty-Fifth
L Cpl Harry Lee Blaikie
of Truro, Nova Scotia
sitting in a suit on
long afternoons in our living room
when church was done
legs crossed, tie clip rising and
falling with each shallow breath
of the White Owl cigar that
burned oh so slowly in his right hand
the smoke as low as his voice
talking with my father
of the car and lumber business
of the garage and mill and stock market
and the weather, always the weather
when all else failed, as if that alone
could affirm the bond between them
a code for everything left unspoken
how hot it was, how cold, and
‘minds me of the time in Burnside’
or ‘those winters in the woods’
the two of them turning in unison
to stare at the pale curtain window
and my mother serving tea
and sweets on good china plates
with pleasantries
and never a word of the war
on any occasion in all those years
not even second hand from my father
and thus I knew my uncle not
but the quiet man with the town cigar
and the pale blue eyes
behind thin-rimmed glasses
and the good felt hats and pastel cars
it was not until he was very old
and near death himself that he finally
spoke - to the paper - of the gas
the mud and shells
machine gun bullets
the stench and din of the trenches
horrors that even then he could
scarcely bring himself to mention
you did what you had to do, he said
I shot at people - my uncle
backing out the laneway into the dusk
gone like the wars we never knew

© 2012