Those days there were four of us.
Even our parents knew enough not to bother us
when we went off for God knows what
at any odd hour. They knew it’d be the river,
finally, after all day in the woods
out behind the ruined church.
They knew it’d be the river we’d come to,
just to lie in a beached boat, bait a line,
cast and wait, while we all four talked
about what little we knew about all there was.
When we talked, we talked war,
not real war, but the wars they taught us:
the Indian one with Custer and arrows and horses,
and the first one when Rebels in their buckskins
stood against bright red Hessians and the names
were Ticonderoga and Boston and Valley Forge.
We talked of books where Knights were
and Long-bowmen and lances and keeps
and Crusaders until our bamboo fishing poles
were spears and twigs were weapons
and the tears in our tee-shirts were wounds.
The stream-beds running to the river
made good trenches and the full-size polystyrene
machine guns they sold in Foodtown
and the mortar, in Meyer’s Toy Store,
with its supply of plastic shells
were things we schemed to own.
When we were through, we all went home
to hear about napalm and bombers
and other villages not anything like our own.
Those days there was war, a real one,
and what little we knew, we knew
because of the Evening News and the slow role
of the names of the dead over the blue screens
we stared at every night after supper.
After each abbreviated rank,
after the initials and the names,
there were the places the names came from
and sometimes they were close: Summit
or Jockey Hollow, where my Aunt lived,
or Piscataway, where the first house
I remember was. Not always and not often,
I saw a name I recognized and the slow
wonder came about who the man had been
and why he had left and what he had become.
Those days there were four of us:
old enough to dream ourselves heroes,
too young to understand what heroes know.