He’d always loved boats, being on the water.
Enlisted in the Navy at thirty-three, took up smoking, too,
signed up for top secret hazardous duty overseas.
But he didn’t go to sea—he went to
fight Japan from the ground in Manchuria,
Aerographer’s mate first class. He told us he
learned to track clouds—
Cirrus, cumulus, nimbus. Shaved his
head, all the men did, Naval intelligence said
that would fool the Japanese when they flew over. They lived
with Chinese soldiers and spies, ate rice and whatever meat
their hosts could scare up. It might have been dogs.
I forecasted the weather, he told us, but
the records say otherwise: First, to Calcutta for indoctrination,
how to eat with chopsticks, never insult the Chinese hosts.
Flew over the Hump, on to Happy Valley, east of Chunking.
Lived in camphor wood houses, drank water from teapot spouts.
The history books say they spied on Japanese troops and ships,
blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines in harbors,
trained Chinese soldiers in guerrilla warfare, rescued downed aviators.
When he left for San Pedro, my mother watched him pack
a long knife and a gun in his suitcase. Orders, he said. Top secret.
He told the same story twice about the gash on his forehead that
grew fainter over the years, till it was a thin line across his eyebrow.
He returned from his war malnourished, his teeth
rotting, he drank straight shots of whiskey,
chased it with beer. He brought silks embroidered by the Maryknolls,
He had the last rites twice.
He hated the Communists, Chiang Kai-Shek was his man.
I never knew it till after he died—he was no weatherman.
Originally published in Light : A Journal of Poetry and Photography, December , 2016