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

By Esther Ann Griswold

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.