Bucharest 1918

An uncle was killed during the war
for wearing the wrong color hat.
He wasn’t a soldier. He didn’t see the rifle barrel
aimed at his neck. He was standing by the side

of the road watching a bird, a red-tailed woodpecker,
listening for its home. Death is a home
unseen by the side of the road,
the rifle barrel aimed. A bird listens with its neck.

During the war many uncles were killed.
They were not soldiers. They were wearing colorful hats.
During the war many uncles stood at the sides of roads
watching the wrong birds, the wrong homes,

not seeing the roadside clearing. During a war,
wearing the wrong color is to stand on your neck,
not as a soldier, not as a woodpecker. Aimed at
from the bottom of a tree, killed

by the side of the road while watching a bird.
My uncle was wrongly killed on the wrong side
of the road. Red war for his neck.
During a war, no uncles are home.

They are red-tailed, barreling from their homes,
slung, as a rifle is slung across someone’s shoulders.
Seeing is to peck like a woodpecker, a red-necked
lengthy death, right here in front of me.

Read on . . .

Only When,” a poem by Paul Celan