I Had an Uncle Who Crushed by War; Unspeakable in Spring; & A Burnt Something or Other


I Had an Uncle Who Crushed by War


returned to his novel in a box, 

feeding chapter by chapter to the furnace, 

winter 1944.


Start again: My uncle handed every all of it

to coals my grandfather dutifully 

shoveled through a little door of flame, muted roar 

elemental as air, a hardening 

wrenched from earth. 


Freezing is a legacy too. Overgrown

undergrowth, one branch scrapes that cellar’s high 

window, two, maybe

three birds bearing up in the cold, their pitiful calls 

out by forsythia cut back for the season.


One page, then another and another into ash, story 

of my uncle’s story before

I had any idea to look straight into fire 

for the exact containment of 

what fury it takes to warm such a house 

or how not day but night most resembles the mind.


A novel written before he came back old, before 

North Africa and the landing in Sicily,

before what falls 

falls as blackout and silence. 


What’s worse is what time does, the horrific 

turning banal, turning so-what, one step from forgotten. 

Or maybe that’s good, a good thing, 

the slate gone blank for

better-this-time, okay? is the theory. 

Every next generation goes dark with hope.


Not that they really sing—a robin, a blackcap, 

the cardinal a bloodred wound 

in such weather. I can’t say 

my saying changes anything much.


All burning burns on. Nevertheless: a crack in that window.


Winter birds. My uncle turns his head, 

enough ache of the world in their sound.


Marianne Boruch’s poetry collections include Bestiary Dark (Copper Canyon, 2021), which began with her 2019 Fulbright fellowship in Australia. She has also published four books of essays, including Sing by the Burying Ground (Northwestern, 2024), and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana University Press, 2011). Among her honors are a Kingsley-Tufts Award, Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and residencies in Budapest, at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center, and two national parks, and an earlier Fulbright in Edinburgh.