it really is funny how things can haunt you

punctuation helps when haunted

gives control

assists with making meaning

but not with John Mohowski


i for one am guessing

most of us baby boomers

knew about the war that birthed us

not that anybody i knew talked about it much

especially John Mohowski


i mean there were those pictures that we saw

of the skeletons with skin on

leaned up against barbed wire and breathing

or so the pictures said


and too there was the stuff

in the trunk my grandma hid in the barn

a piece chipped off the taj mahal

and the incense fingers

we kids called them fingers

because they were as long and thick as ours

those incense fingers

the ones my dad brought home

from india


my dad was there

in india

loading bombs onto airplanes

that would fly across some hump or other

i knew that


my mom was in it too

the war

i knew that

but i must admit i did not know where

or when

or how

just that she looked beautiful in uniform

or so the photos seemed to say

as did the look on daddy

every time he saw them

at least until

the wince

took his inner eyesight

someplace else


people have different talents

you know how it is

like my dad

he was always good at wincing

i never saw him flinch from anything

but i am here to tell you that the man could wince

it was subtle

happened in those moments

those rare moments

when something deep inside him hurt

and you could probably only see it if

you happened to be his kid

i saw it when he caught us


at the pictures of the breathing skeletons with skin on

and i saw it when he watched my mother

pour herself and him another drink apiece

and i saw it


when he looked at their friend John Mohowski

who was rounder than the other men

and softer too

and from not norway or sweden but poland

and who liked to sit serenely by the lake

and drink his beer


people said he was shot down

behind some lines or other

and been captured

and escaped

and walked a long way to get out

but no one said it within earshot of the man himself

at least while i was around and listening


most likely



for all I know

he is still alive somewhere

fading as they say away

but John Mohowski haunted me

almost all my life


there are days

always have been days

when i find myself outdoors

looking at a wall of bricks

or indoors at a wall of plaster

and instead of bricks or plaster

i see water

and John Mohowski

lifting a can of beer in silent salute

as he passes us

oh so smoothly

in his sailboat

on our lake


[And here I find that nowadays I always have to interrupt my poem to explain to folks that once upon my lifetime the lake belonged to all of us and it was nice. Yep.

Nowadays I have to tell people, complete with punctuation, that this was before the Romneys bought the West Coast and the Bushes bought the Maine part of the East, and that I was maybe the last generation of normal everyday working-class folk who got to grow up around the water; that fishermen and lobstermen and suchlike used to live right near the water, in cottages. Yeah. And they could walk themselves to work instead of driving pickups a dozen miles to town. And kids like me? We used to sit on the lake – ours and everybody else’s lake – in rowboats, in the summer, and wait for fish to bite while our uncles would read to us, and I guess they maybe read us Hemingway but I don’t remember listening really. And I sure don’t remember the war parts if there were some. Anyway…]


what haunts me most of all is the circle

the circle of grownups in their lawn chairs

the circle of grownups between the cottage and the water

and John Mohowski

as he did so many times when I was small gets up


from the circle of grownups

without saying anything

and walks down to the edge of the water


and stares out across the lake


as if he is waiting

for some part of himself

to come out of the woods

on the other side

and swim on home to him

and then

when it fails to appear he turns


and walks



past the circle of grownups

with his empty lawn chair in it

and climbs the steps

to the cottage he shares with his wife mildred


and goes inside and closes the door


and for at least a little while


is gone


when i turn

in my haunted head

back to the circle of grownups

with the John Mohowski chair in it


i see my mother

looking in the direction of the cottage

as if watching him walk there


as if she knows

as if she knows

as if she knows



and then i see my father who is cooking burgers on the grill

watching her

and wincing

as if he knows

as if he knows

as if he knows



my father leaves the grill

walks around the circle

sits in the empty chair beside my mother

puts his arm around her

she leans her head on his shoulder


and suddenly John Mohowski does not haunt me


what haunts me now

is my mom 

and what it is she knows