Reading Matters

WWII poem by Barbara Presnell in honor of Veteran’s Day

The Death of Col. McCollum

Two yards from where the body lay,

Bill found his wallet, splayed open

to the photo of a woman standing in snow,

baby in her left arm, her right hand clutching

the fist of a small girl pressed into her waist.

On the back in slanted script,

Waiting here for you. Love forever.

His helmet had rolled off and was lying

in leaves not far from the river bank

they’d crossed earlier that day

as mortar fire shattered around them.

Bill pulled the dog tags, cursing.

What any of them would do now,

he couldn’t say. He cried, blamed himself,

said he should’ve gone too, could’ve at least

hunted down the son of a bitch that got him.

Now he fires at everything that moves—

a rustle in the brush, a rabbit, a bird,

wind stirring. Hours ticking off

till everything he knows is gone.

Barbara Presnell is the author of five collections of poetry, including “Piece Work,” which won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize and was adapted for stage by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina. She has been awarded fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. A native of Asheboro, North Carolina, she teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and lives in Lexington, North Carolina, with her husband, Bill Keesler. The poem, “Death of Col. McCollum,” is from her most recent collection, “Blue Star,” from Press 53.