Two Poems

May 20, 2022

Alfred Chakin, Feb. 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0678. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.

His Knee

He had a trick knee. Otherwise,

he was built like an ox, an Olympic-

class wrestler, a collegiate coach.


He was also political, committed,

willing to take risks. When civil war

came to Spain, he volunteered to fight.


He was going to Spain. She was scared,

she knew all about his knee. She’d seen

him half-squat, pull the joint into place.


He passed the medical exam. He was going

to Spain. The doctors found nothing wrong.

She wondered if they’d looked at his knee.


He could lose his life or someone else’s.

She wondered if she should tell. He had his

pride, she had pride. He was going to Spain.


His pride, he would never forgive her. She

saw the ship sail from the westside dock. She

waved, cried. She had her pride. She sent


a box of Fanny Farmer chocolates. He sent

her thanks and his love. She knit gloves

and a sweater. He sent postcards, letters.


Then the letters stopped. She knew what not

to think. She had her pride, but she thought

anyway. She called headquarters every day.


No one knew anything. She knew what that

meant. Her fault? What could she have done?

He was going to Spain, whatever she’d done.


Years later without him, the old woman says,

we all die, some die young. He died for a good

purpose. He had his pride. He went to Spain.


—Peter Neil Carroll



The Spectrum

War began as predicted, a vision of fire.

I pulled the blanket over my head, safe,

thousands of miles from personal tragedy.


Maybe I should send my blanket to the Red

Cross, they could forward it to a child in

Ukraine. Surely that’s the least I could do.


Not enough, though. Maybe tomorrow I will

purchase a box of soft diapers for a children’s

hospital in Kyiv or a can of condensed milk.


I saw a photo of a woman weeping in the street,

her arms bare, blood on her naked legs, shoeless.

Clothing. That’s what she needs, a little warmth.


Yes, I realize, the wounded need bandages, anti-

biotics, plain aspirin in an emergency. It’s okay

to send medical aid. They call it humanitarian.


I know there are many Doctors without Borders

already there, and volunteer cooks boiling soups,

and stews to nourish folks who have lost kitchens.


Those helpers are so brave, sincere, real menschen.

I should support them, too, but will money arrive

in time to save a country? Can I buy an ambulance?


Can I drive an ambulance? That’s a peaceful way

to help strangers trapped in a war. It would be good

for my conscience. But can one person matter?


What the soldiers who are fighting really want are

more weapons and ammunition or, better still, tanks

and rockets. They could use airplanes and bombs.


But stop there. They must be only old-fashioned bombs

built on TNT. Not atom bombs or hydrogen bombs

because that could kill too many people plus animals.


Where does it end? What is it the right thing to send,

to help someone in trouble? Or a whole country? As if

I could draw a red line on a spectrum or cross over it.

—Peter Neil Carroll