Steve De France

Tilting toward the sea on a gentle hill,

the three of us sat at a wooden picnic table

on a peaceful day in a southern California park.

My father, crisply dressed, in his army uniform

with many medals, sat stiff-backed—intently chewing

a Weber's Bread egg salad sandwich,

his jaw muscles twitching & jumping.

Above us & seemingly nailed

to the center of the sky the sun bright &

dazzling left no shadow. The entire park

was drenched in an ultra bright illumination.

Everything around us seemed to slow down.

Time crossed his legs wiped his brow

and settled in next to us. I counted my heartbeats.

Leaves seemed to grow greener & the sky bluer

A lizard sat on the far leg of the bench & tilted

his quizzical head and I stretched & yawned,

as mother spread a blanket on green grass. I felt

this day would never end as Cicadas began singing

Sparrows flashed by us pursued by a hawk.

A sudden engine roared above our heads.

Mother & I looked up as a military fighter plane

roared defiantly overhead.

“Speed—what is it?” Mother cried.

Father was under the table. His entire body shaking

in convulsive sobs.   I thought it was pretty cool.

I mean he was really fast when he dove under the table.

But I wasn't sure about the sobbing & shaking

“It's the war,” mother said, “his nerves.”

When he sat up again, he quickly lit a cigarette,

his face covered with sweat & his hands shook.

He seemed to look past me into a vacant place,

until his face cracked into a crooked smile.

A week later he lost the last of his nerve.

He left the house on Owosso Street

for the last time, walked past the ice plant,

went straight to the neighborhood market &

bought a final pack of Lucky Strikes cigarettes.