When does the war end?

27 May

This Memorial Day poem honors a cousin and thereby all who served.

When does the war end?

 Remembering a cousin

Short and stocky,

He bounced when he walked. 

Forearms as big as Dempsey‘s,

Whose twelve inch punch 

Could crush a man’s skull.


“You ought to be a boxer,”

His uncles urged.


Guadalcanal in November 

Nineteen forty-two

Changed things. 


The bow of his ship,

The New Orleans,

Blown apart in the Battle of


Name of the burial waters 

Where hundreds of boys—

Navy men—lie sleeping.


A miracle, the doctors 

Told him. “Your life’s been

Spared.” The shrapnel that

Crashed into his eye

Never reached his brain.

But it left a hole.


That wasn’t the end of Leo’s war.

He never sailed a battle cruiser

Again, but his war

Went on and on.


On Armistice Day, back home, 

Parades celebrated on Colfax Avenue

And on every Main Street in America.

Mayors and senators and the President

And generals and admirals declared

“Peace is here, War is over.”

We cheered and waved our hands

Holding American flags.

Leo’s war continued.

He fought the ghosts that haunted

His days and nights. Searched for

Love he never found.

At the end, runaway cancer cells

Found him.

With ninety proof meds

His daily portion,

He fought for fifty years.

His war never ended.

He stopped fighting.

(c) Phil Hefner   5/27/2019


One Response to “When does the war end?”

  1. Barbara Whittaker-Johns May 27, 2019 at 10:22 pm #

    Thank you Phil for this powerful piece. It is a sad day, but poetry that makes the loss particular and personal is needed. The world news these last few days points to a hardening of national boundaries and hearts. Such a hardening might even set the stage for another catastrophic war – one ending not only millions of particular lives, but perhaps also destroying this particular planet we call our personal home.

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