Scott Whitaker

Château Thierry, Fall 1940 German Invasion of France

We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano,

my father announced over breakfast, the sausage squared,

wine thinned by water, biscuits sharp as a fingernail.

We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano, he repeated.

But we will run out of food, my mother said, the wine on her lips

like the stains we would suddenly find on our skins,

our clothes,

in our milk.

How we went from daily baths

to washrags,

the water oily from ash, bombs, and the gauze of gasoline

from the Luftwaffe raids

that left knotted smoke in the tangles above our town.

Every morning and every evening

my father played his favorite waltz

while our neighbors

and relatives vanished in their carts,

walking with the wrack and wreck of their belongings,

fever hanging on their bones like bloody moss.

Not even when the shelves began to shudder.

Not even when we were alone

in town.

Daily rounds

of raiding basements, wine cellars,

the weekly runs to the far gardens in the soon countryside.

We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano

he would sometime mutter at breakfast or at lunch

spreading butter over fried flour.

Not even when the neighboring village burned in the dusk

or the Panzers crawled in,

their insect roar splintering the very sunlight

about our block.

And it was too late,

although my mother had packed.

Your father has lost his mind with grief, she said, your sister,

my mother, your aunt and uncle.

My sister and I, with our mother dear

left our father with his tools, his bottles of wine, and the his piano

that still managed to hold its music even as the earth gave way

to engine, to gunpowder.

But he didn’t stay.

He met us in the shredded wood.

He carried no food, no blankets, no clothes

only his tuning tools, like walrus teeth in his broken hands.

Scott Whitaker lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia with his wife and two sons. Whitaker is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and is a regular contributor to Delmarva Quarterly and the Broadkill Review.

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