local_library Benito Mussolini

by Tony Barnstone

Published in Issue No. 149 ~ October, 2009

They didn’t put us in the camps like Japs

but called us names like greasy guinea. See, we

were poor, my parents couldn’t read, and perhaps

we should have been in camp since Mussolini

was a big deal to us, okay? At last

our Italy had someone who was not

a wimp. But how we felt on that changed fast

when we got in the war, when we was caught

up in the thing, and when the navy took

my boys and I lost one in the Pacific,

and I worked factory, a parachute

a minute. So I thought it was terrific

when Mussolini was arrested. Brute,

buffoon, they hung Il Duce from a hook.

(Factory worker, Little Italy)

Massacre Bay

People forget about Massacre Bay

on Attu in the Aleutians. The Japs

was dug in there in caves, no way

to clean those rat nests out but flame. Perhaps

we lost some men we didn’t need to, cooking

them good with flamethrowers. Smarter to wait

for them to starve. Later on, I was looking

for hand grenades or flags, for stuff to take.

All the dead bodies was froze solid, so

they didn’t stink too much. I found a letter

in a Jap soldier’s pocket. Translated,

it said, “We’re all too sick to eat. There’s no

food anyway. Soon they will come. It’s better.

I love you. When you read this, I’ll be dead.”

(Navy Crew Chief and Top Turret Gunner, Attu, 1943)

The Ball Turret Gunner

Inside this ball of magic glass

they put a tiny man, with guns,

a sphere of battered plexiglass

where I am naked to the sun.

It’s like a toy world, miniature,

except with death—a sweet white flock

of lamblike clouds where colors tear

the blue with tracer fire, black flak.

A pilot close enough to knife

me with his gaze dives like a seal

and I’m the shark. My two guns speak,

then stutter, and he keeps his life.

In the blue dome, time congeals.

He swims off slowly, bleeding smoke.

(American Gunner, B-17 Flying Fortress)

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Tony Barnstone's most recent poetry book is Tongue of War (BKMK Press, 2009), winner of the John Clardi Prize in Poetry. A Professor of English at Whittier College, his other books of poetry include The Golem of Los Angeles (Red Hen Press, 2007), Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005), and Impure (University Press of Florida (1999), as well as a chapbook of poems, Naked Magic (Main Street Rag, 2002). His website is: http://www.barnstone.com.