Cry Uncle


I was in my forties when I sat down with my aunt and my uncle to ask them how they had found out about their brothers' deaths. My Aunt Ann, who was 16 when this had happened -- she was the one who provided all of the visual details -- remembers being in the kitchen with my grandmother when they saw the two military men walking shoulder to shoulder up the sidewalk. My mother, who was 12, was on the stairwell when she heard the scream. My Uncle Don, who was 7, remembers being in his wagon, one leg in the wagon, one leg pushing forward on the sidewalk, when he came to a halt upon hearing his mother's scream.

I wrote this poem in response to the stories they told me that day:

Cry Uncle
This would be the first time it would happen;
The second time would come in just six months.
My grandmother stood at the kitchen sink,
Cleaning up endless meals, why not endless?
There was a window, always a window,
It was wide open, wide open in June.
And they came, the ones they send to tell you --
There was a plane, some maneuvers, a crash,
No survivors, sincere apologies --
And they came, in their stiff formality,
Fully suited, one summer day in June.
She tried to shut the window, how she tried,
To keep them out, to keep him safe within.
There was a window, always a window,
It was wide open, wide open in June.
Now they were inside, inside of her home,
She tried to open the window wider,
Her knees on the sink, she was half outside,
Her flailing arms reaching up, toward the sky,
Then this: there was a scream, always this scream,
She screamed 'Jimmy' one summer day in June.   

Flanagan 6/99

Bud died six months after Jim. He died right before Christmas; the military delayed notifying my grandparents until after Christmas, thinking it was more humane.