Santo Tomas Internment camp, Manila
The hero arrives in an armada, years after you begin dreaming of him in black and white.
Armies stamp through your sleep, dole out chocolate, dried milk with a chalkiness
you long for.
In daylight hours you let your baby’s face grow into a young man,
turn sounds of crying into words, and answer chores, homework, grounded:
You long to punish someone.
Men die for talking back. You collect retorts, place them in a bamboo box
that took days for you to make.
Some nights they come on horseback, charge and sweep you up, as if you were a girl, a damsel,
a princess. You wake, shamed, in sweat.
Other times they throw you a sword and you fight back. You pin the officer’s sleeve
with the blade and make him stand until he falls in fatigue.
This is what it is to be weak.
You have seen strong men become bone, beggar, betrayer.
You dream of when you were a small boy, crying in a dorm in Hong Kong. No one comes. Then
footsteps. Your dead mother vanquished by each strike of the cane.
Once you rescued a starved dog from a man with a stick.
On the walk home, it bit you, drawing blood.
God damn dog. Your waking words. The fleet has come. Or tomorrow, the fleet will come.
Every night, the fleet comes.
What do I know about rescue?
The dead possum with her babies writhing in the bloody mess
a car made on impact?
How I got on the school bus and left them there, drowning in blood?
The time a girl pulled me out of the back of a pickup—
my belly full of pills—and drove me to the hospital?
The way it was never spoken of again?
Here is what rescue looks like in a photograph:
A sea of starved faces, a General:
MacArthur rescues my grandfather from internment.
I don’t know what it is to be confined from life.
To be worthy of an army, of thousands of prayers back home.
What do I know about rescue?
Or the lack of it, as I was pinned to a bed.
Or later, chained to the near dead.
Who wants to hear these tales of local losses, of misplaced sacrifice?
Small parts of ourselves scalped, carried off by the victor.
The ones we had been trying to rescue.
What do I know about rescue, how to go in and do the job
and then leave?
MacArthur never moved into the camp and became a prisoner.
What is it about leaving I don’t understand?
after Nelly Sachs
We the rescued carry forth your burdens. We take them
in flight across the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the islands between.
We beat the tin can of our enclosure, the failing wing,
the sing song of an engine dying. We drop ourselves into the white stretch
of our task, each grain a mask of who we have become. The sun
glares against our teapot of a temper, the whistling grows:
When will we be rescued? We the rescued report that you
have not returned us to ourselves. The plants are dying all around you.
Where is the water, the secret potion, the band-aid in the first aid,
the white apron, the history of helpers, the stethoscope, the doctor’s
note: excuses for ourselves and everybody else. Resuscitated
blame. Why have you not come?
We the rescued are the ones already dead, the ones you said
had returned. We the rescued come postage paid. Bury us, take us
back to our soils. There is no place that does not call us home.
We are skinless, eyeless, we have no tongue. Can you hear us?
We the rescued rely on memory. You cannot forget
what follows you like a low dust, settling across
the tables and shelves, the back of the chair, whitening your hair.
We are everywhere you have not been. Do you feel us sticking
the elevator door? We the rescued, we are waiting. Can you
not hear our songs? How have you never come?
Rebecca Morgan Frank’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in such journals as Georgia Review, Cincinnati Review, Prairie Schooner, Sou’wester, Phoebe, and Calyx. She is co-founder and editor of Memorious (www.memorious.org). She teaches at Emerson College and Grub Street in Boston.