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Editorial

Fall 2005

Life During Wartime
Lea C. Deschenes

I.
At what point do you declare the war
officially over?

When the blood stops?
When the bone knits?
When the scar fades to a thin ridge of nerveless white?

When the dead assume their quiet places on the mantelpiece?
When the dead stop speaking to you?
When the dead stop speaking?

When history is rewritten
in the stone of new monuments and we begin
reconstructing ourselves?

At what point do you stop living
in wartime?

At what point is it safe
to speak of flowers?

II.
If you go back through the rubble, looking for your things,
assume they will be broken, stolen, or gone.

If you go back through the rubble, wait for daylight
because the city is haunted and all
the ghosts of war are angry.

They want things life never gave them:
victory, medals, closure, time.

They want company.

You were never afraid of ghosts,
before you learned how fast a museum burns,
stray flames wiping out entire histories.

III.
When I crawled out of the trench,
I thought the sun was gone,
but it was only nighttime
and the air was thick
with smoke.

When I realized war had not killed me,
part of me was sorry, but mostly,
I was relieved and hoped things might be quieter
in the future.

When you look at me, cities fall like fireworks
and all the ghosts of Dresden call my name.

IV.
I ran into you on the street,
familiar reflection caught mid-step
in the black marble front of an impersonal building,
saluted before I could stop myself.

I have nothing to say to our past battles,
barely remember which grudges either one of us
may be holding in some lost corner of our houses­-
outdated orders folded into the pocket
of an unfavored coat.

Our conversation reads like strangers asking
for direction. We pretend for the sake
of the destroyed and the buried
to have more in common
than old letters yellowing
in attic footlockers.

We nod as if our heads were weighted,
our smiles vague. Polite. Return
to our estranged, civilian present.

Somebody loved you once.
Damned if I remember who.