one on the wall by JB Mulligan

one on the wall
(Lance Corporal John Henry Ferril II, 6/3/46-7/7/67)

I

Your brother and your sisters speak
and sometimes hear the silence take
a familiar shape, and break.

Your shadow moves in shadows on their floors.
Your knock is sunlight on their doors.
Your smile might brush at night against theirs.

Your job. Your eyes. Your time alone.
So many threads undone
that air and light and dark are thinned.

Some essential pulse is lost,
something that dips and soars along the coast,
some egg that tumbled from the nest
and leaves each morning sky unblessed.

II

Stranger in a strange land,
speaking to new acquaintance or friend,
looking frequently around

this vivid lack of home
in shifting shadows of hope and gloom,
aware that what is to come

might be the trickle of a drying well
from which you drank the little that was all
that you could take before you fell.

Your memories are brittle coins
and gems scattered among the jagged stones
of a battlefield in broken designs
worn smooth by the seasons.

III

A man born on the day you died
would be nearing fifty – bellied
and balding, perhaps, laughing loud

as he pokes at the holiday grill,
watches sparks dance up from coal,
the drift and drop and settle of a gull

on the sea: backdrop of waves
frilled and ragged; a boat which leaves
its peeling wake. He loves

(since he is not) invisible children
running on sand, a wife unseen,
unkissed, unmet. You are gone
and he might have been your son.

by JB Mulligan

Editor’s Note: This poem handles potential and loss in three parts, using shadows, a boat’s wake, and other imagery as the backdrop of grief because some things can’t be touched directly. You only know they exist because of their absence.

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