My Uncle Sheldon never went to war,
the oldest son exempt by law
to carry on our family name,
to care for the farm.
From milking cows his hands grew strong
those cold, Catskill mornings,
and gentle, too, bathed in milk,
his fingers long against the firm,
pink udders, and by the time his brothers
came back from overseas,
he’d taught himself to play the piano.
Alfred, Douglas, Charles—
he calmed with those hands
when they’d wake in their beds like boys
to the high whine of shells
and brute fact of lead,
the rhythm, like milking, of his fingers at the keys
stilling the rattling windows
with music like steam, grassy and sweet
from the buckets rising, filling with sleep
the house they each were born in.
by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.
Editor’s Note: This poem’s narrative is deceptively simple. Sometimes describing trauma is best approached from the side of things.