War Scene for Dorothy


This house in Lomita is where the boy of my story lives who writes too many war stories.
House in Lomita


A barrage starts up one hazy morning with rat-tat-tats & single shots fired & breathless men looking out through slits in what cover they’ve taken. Tracers focus the mind. What mind wanders under shrapnel’s apocalyptic hailing with bodies of silhouetted men coming into view between drifts of smoke?

I wrote “Mother’s Courage” as a teen to show a siege on a hospital as a despicable act of groupthink. Men find themselves in the throes of renal failure without knowing what’s happening to them. Maimed by booby traps & mines & machine-gun fire, men watch for the ramifications of trauma reaching like branches across lifetimes, until Ms. Haberfield says, “Please no more war scenes. If you must write about an experience that belongs to others, write about your parents’ courtship. Write what you know to be true without making anything up. When your access to their real lives runs out, write how running out makes you feel. Jot down interview questions whether you ask them. And yes, do speculate about their relationship, just let your reader know you’re speculating. Avoiding violence at all costs, may the limitations of your knowledge be the subject of your art today & ever after.”

We pack their wounds so true rescuers may lug them out on canvas-covered stretchers once set to fathers’ sawhorses and now serving as operating tables. Despite the amputees among us, we try not to judge those pushing their way forward as sirens wail & the wind of whirring propellers mashes hair to heads & scant vegetation to dead, gray earth. It’s the first day of the Tet Offensive, the week I am born, and my mother and not my father (in my swapping of their roles) is winning the Bronze Star Medal for her ability to enplane dozens of casualties under enemy fire. I make him her and her him and her him again. They are the memory of someone forgotten. The medal, solid bronze, sits on the mantel in the little yellow ranch house on Doria Avenue in Lomita, California.