What My Buddy’s Dad Told Us About the Russian Front

by Brent Short on October 7, 2012


He showed us the scar lifting up his t-shirt
over the gray mat of hair on his chest—
a pale line where the lung was removed.

Our commander told us we could surrender
to the Russian army or try to make it all the
way back with the supplies we had left.

It was the kind of no-win decision you made in
those days. Staring back across endless fields, flat,
featureless, the picture of oblivion; they choose home—
heading they hoped in the right direction.

His story was about the fortunes of a survivor,
he told us. He made it, not everybody did.
They were out there with no food, in the cold.

Supply horses killed along the way to eat, their bellies
sliced open to crawl into for warmth. When the
carcasses stopped steaming, they’d move on.

Pointing, his finger suspended over the kitchen table,
as if he were still moving through that black forest of trees,
the stinging snow and howling cold: You could hear their voices

blending in with the snow, those little bastards, laughing
and sneaking around—peep, peep, peep—somewhere
out there, lost in all that whiteness. Sometimes we

could make them out through the trees heading the other way,
sometimes not. But neither side was much in the mood for
fighting. Besides it was too cold, half their guns wouldn’t work.
If you really had to, you pissed on the trigger to unfreeze it.

Once though, spooked and frightened—the Russians came
so close it was hard to sit and watch. They were tempted to
shoot just to spite the generals who left them out there to die.

My buddy’s dad said he never wanted to run so much in
his life, hiding there, waiting for them to pass. It’s terrible
not being able to see what you sense is right in front of you,
trapped, not being able to move. They continued on in a march
across that glaring emptiness.

He tried remembering everything he could about his hometown
to keep himself going. Once in a daydream, he was back in
his barn in Germany.

He could smell the hay as he dropped effortlessly into sleep’s
self-forgetfulness. Someone swung the doors open, the sun’s
warmth hit his face. A summer brilliance stung his eyes;
he felt a tingle returning.

The soldier who was leaning over him in a drift, rubbing a handful
of snow in his face, was telling him he had to try and walk.
There wouldn’t be anyone else coming along to help; they were on
their own now he told him, this was war.

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Brent Short

Brent Short lives outside Tampa and works at Saint Leo University as the Director of Library Services.  He’s been a contributor to Sojourners, Radix, Mars Hill Review and Inklings. His poetry has appeared in Eads Bridge Literary Review, Windhover, Tar River Poetry and Sandhill Review, and still holds up “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot as the towering achievements in modern poetry that the rest of us can only aspire to.


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