Like Thousands of Others, My Father Brought Back Souvenirs from the War

Here is a photo, black and white:
My father, 40 years old,
Standing in mud up to his shins
At an army camp
in Paupau, New Guinea.
It is the war. 
He is smiling at the camera.

Seventy years later,
The slim, hand-carved walking stick
He brought back from the war
Is my daily companion.

Thirty-six inches tall, made from
Dark walnut wood,
White lime rubbed into incised
Designs, with two small human figures
Standing back to back, guarding
The user of the stick.

A man from New Guinea, name unknown,
Traded this splendid creation
To my father, for….what?
American coins? Two tins of spam?
Perhaps bullet casings, plus
An unused army cap.

I know what happened
To my father: the medals, the struggles,
Successes and illness.
But what became of the carver?

Was he sent to the mines, or
Killed in a raid
By a neighboring tribe?
Or did he learn the language of
The colonizers and sit in an office,
Enjoying some small slice of power.

Examining the photo of my father,
I imagine the artisan standing
Just beyond the camera’s lens,
Wishing these strangers would leave.

And what of the carver’s children?
Do they have PhDs?  Are they are world travelers?
How I yearn to tell them
Of the long arc of their father’s
Elegant work, which reaches
Through time and space
To support an old woman
On the other side of the world.

By Esther Ann Griswold
The Write Age
Winter 2017