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Sydney Lea: Living History

Dad drove through the rows of small crosses. They looked pretty to me.         
On the cliffs, you could still see gun nests dug into the chalk.
My father turned chalky himself, which scared me half-witless.
I was not quite ten years old the day we traveled 
To one site of the D-Day invasion nine years before.
I asked what the trouble was. His words sounded cryptic:
“We lost a lot of men here.” I felt something like shock:
How could things from such ancient history survive

Through my whole lifetime?  I watch a portly man hide 
These many years later behind a rhododendron	
By a lush spring field. The man and a dozen others,
Sprightly in quaint knee britches and tricorn hats,
Re-enact a battle scene from our revolution.
With a ramrod, the guy tamps imaginary powder.
Here in Vermont, not far outside of Bennington,
I suddenly recollect a certain movie,
 
Touted by some reviewer or other as “searingly 
Real.” Searing, was it? It’s that description
That summons to mind Red Logan, my longtime dentist. 
It’s his answer that sears. Shortly before he died
Of cancer, Red set up a clinic for our local poor,
The ones with the truly bad teeth.  The film in question, 
Over twenty years old, was Saving Private Ryan.
That clinic showed my dentist’s big heart. We were friends,

So I asked him how real the movie’s action had been.
Red had manned a tank in Patton’s force.  
“Well,” he replied, “It was about as convincing
As anything I’ve seen on what combat looked like.” 
Today’s re-enactors in a public park in Vermont
Always refer to themselves, I know, as “living 
Historians.” My soldier suddenly waddles across
The clean green field, but soon feigns a mortal wound.

The pageant is young, so he’ll have to lie around 
A long, long time.  But it’s such a lovely spring day–
The same as the one that time we were at St. Lo.  
My father spoke little of the war but for funny stories,
Like when one of his grunts attempted to steal a piglet
From a convent’s barn. But that’s not on my mind now,
Even though pork-scent pervades this outdoor play–
Barbecued meat on the gas-fired grilles of observers

Here for the fun.  Years back I was stunned that my father
Threw up on those cliffs. Tonight I’ll be safe at home.
These living historians are playing at chaos, their skirmish
All scripted. I’m a lifelong civilian, but think I’ve learned 
That chaos can never really be replicated
Except by itself.  Clearly it hurt Red to finish. 
“There are things...,” he murmured. “You know, it’s hard to explain....”         
“Nothing else captures, for instance...” – he concentrated.

“No movie can give you the smell of a human in flames.”

Copyright 2022 Sydney Lea

Saving Private Ryan (opening scene, screen shot)

2 comments on “Sydney Lea: Living History

  1. Sean Sexton
    May 29, 2022

    Amazing. Thankyou Sydney and Michael for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

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