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The Poet's Corner

Independence Day


The day after my mother’s death, my niece

and I pour through photo albums, find

a box of loose, curled, snapshots — images

of the massacre at Gardelegen —

a barn door opened by American soldiers,

bodies one on top of another at the entrance.

Four feet to the left of the pile is the face

of a young man who managed to dig a hole

from the inside, get his head into

the open air. His shoulder blades never

made it; the rest of his body suffered the intended

fate — all burned alive in the barricaded

barn under the direction of the SS before

they fled — the fire meant to destroy evidence

(evidence kept in a box by an old woman

with a plethora of war photos documenting

medical personnel doing their duty, doing

their damn best to save every life possible).

I take out my cellphone, click a picture

of the picture, send it to several friends,

proud of my mother’s involvement, wanting to send

a message of “Never again,” because Neo-

Fascists now march openly in America.

One of my mother’s field hospital surgeons

said he would ask himself for the rest of his life

how so many could follow so few deviants.

There were only thirteen survivors

out of 1,016 prisoners at Gardelegen,

thirteen souls gifted an independence day.

Asked in an interview by National Public Radio,

sixty two years after the war,

why she joined the Army Nurse Corps,

my mother reflected on my father in the Pacific,

her two oldest sons surviving Vietnam,

her youngest son just back from Afghanistan:

“We knew the risks, but somebody had to do it.”

Infant mortality is at an all-time-low

but every woman takes a risk in order

to bring new life into the world.

My mother helped deliver new life

to rescued souls in Gardelegen, Germany,

and many more at Bergen Belsen, then

birthed seven children of her own;

each delivery, each baby’s cry

a declaration of independence.

Steve Nolan is a retired military officer and mental health professional. He has published in numerous journals and his poetry was featured on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, upon his return from Afghanistan. He is the author of “Go Deep,” “Base Camp,” and “American Carnage, An Officer’s Duty to Warn.” He resides in Newtown.

Poet’s Corner is curated by Bucks County Poet Laureate Tom Mallouk and supported by a grant to the Bucks County Herald Foundation made possible by Marv and Dee Ann Woodall.

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