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found poem: the experiment

found poem: to enter

found poem: you

Veterans Day

LRK 1942 Camp YoungMy father, who served during World War II, did his military training at Camp Young — the headquarters of the Desert Training Center, in California’s Mojave Desert, and the world’s largest Army post. Although the work was serious and hard and dirty, the war itself was, for the moment, far away.

He wasn’t big on mementos and didn’t own a camera until much later in his life, but there remain from those months of training a small collection of 8-by-10 glossies of Les, age 31. He never said why they were taken — perhaps for a newsletter or Army recruiting materials. Some are informal, like this one; others are lit dramatically.

As with the rest of his military service, Les spoke little of these months in the desert. The one story I remember was the one he told me each time I pulled out his Army sleeping bag for a slumber party. Near the foot of the bag, on the inside, was a hand-sewn patch, about four inches square. He told me that a field mouse had burrowed through the fabric and dropped a litter of pups in the soft filling. The mother mouse escaped and Les removed the babies, putting them, he assured me, “in a safe place.” As my father watched, I would cautiously unzip the bag, spread it flat and inspect the patch for recent incursions.

The story, with its frisson of the wild kingdom, long outlived its smallest characters. But it was one he could share with his young daughter, and one he could tell without threatening the edifice of silence within which he — and so many soldiers — lived for the remainder of their long lives.

fragments…

She pauses and looks back, waiting. Peers around. Desert.

Off to the side, a hill where patches of yellow flowers hug the contour of a depression between two soft ridges. A bird coasts high overhead without moving its wings, dark against the sky. The high-pitched cry of a hawk.

Her footsteps crunch, dry, gravelly. The soil is compact and hard, with just a layer of wind-blown dirt on top. She bends over and scrapes a bit into her hand. It’s light brown and grainy, gritty, sandy. A few tiny black specks: seeds.

Holding her hand near her face she sees there’s something crawling, some desert bug swept up in mid-transit. It’s impossible to tell what it is, the color of the dirt, but almost transparent. Perhaps a spider, a mite.

With a finger of her other hand, she pushes the grains around. Some seem to be perfectly round, little spheres of planetary matter. Others are flattened, with crystal edges, quartz. She takes one of the larger bits, still only half the size of a peppercorn, and crushes it between thumb and forefinger. It seems to vanish. A memory of moisture having held it together, as the soil and rocks are held together and pressed into mountains, now just a trace of grit. A tiny, flat fleck of mica catches the light.

Her hand is dry, but this dirt, trained by eons of searching for water, has begun to settle into the lines in her palm where, perhaps, the faintest moisture and heat hold some promise of spring rain, floods and flowers. Her life line an oasis.

She extends her arm, palm up, the tiny creature still moving among the grains. There is no wind, no breeze to take it away. She waits, arm out. Then, slowly, she tips her hand and the few loose bits of dirt scatter at her feet. Now only the darkened traces remain in her hand—head line, heart line, life line—and these she brushes away, first with her fingers, then slapping her palms together in a sound that startles her with its flat insignificance.

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