Those Old Suntanners

or, I Don't See Too Many Guys in Suntans* Anymore
*(U.S. Army Class A Summer Dress Issue, Circa '40's - '50's)

by Tom Sheehan

You know, the old summer Class A's they saved
from their promised long weekend leaves,
those killers, those formidable young warriors,
those hot Omaha Beach swimmers with salt
in their noses and into gun barrels and curing
half the ills and evils they had ever known
as if it were the sole balm from the living god,
those St. Lo low flyers of updrafts of gray dawn,
Bastogne Bullies, bridge-wreckers at Germany's
inevitable edge; friends who passed through my
Seoul immemorial times leaving their footprints
for my wayward boots to overshadow, fill in,
pass on to this destiny. Of course, they have
popped the beltline button, split the crotch
in hell's anxieties, let their quick waistlines
go fallow with beer and dreams' nutrients,
those old warriors of Sundays past without
other balms, or Saturday evening shellings or
unconsumed bombs that threaten Wednesdays
fifty years later; those slim-legged survivors
who later wore them with collegiate jackets,
myriad sport coat ensembles, slick-cigaretted,
crew-cutted, such old world-in-the-face looks
that should have toppled their young empires.

You know them, how they came back to play
on the green fields as if they had never left
the chalk-striped confines, showed the kids
how the game used to be played, those sun-
tanners hitting behind the runners, bunters
of the lost art when the whole world sat back
on its heels that the big sound was now over,
put their muscle on the line late in the game
when the only thing left was heart and horror
at losing, having seen too much for their time.
Remember them on baked diamonds of the quiet
Earth, how there was an urgency to collapse
time into a controllable fist, yet how free they
were, breathing on their own, above salt water,
the awful messages buried behind their brows
for all time to come, unstitched wounds and scars
amber in late evening's breezes, like chevrons
from their elsewheres. Their only true badge
was the suntans carried home from Remargen
and Mount Casino leaves, those slim, fit-all
occasion trousers, pressable, neat, signatured
with angst and annihilation and world freedom;
those narrow-waisted emblems of the Forties,
the Fifties, neat with tie and shirt, wore cement
on summer days of their labors, or roofing tar,
some to class and some not, collapsing time again.

I write this to celebrate the last Monday in May,
the day when the soft-shoed parade passes through
the middle of town and the middle of memory.
The hawkers will sell their bright wares, wearing
their municipal permits as badges, cylinderizing
balloons, authorizing plastic toy gun purchases,
leaving their remnant discards in cluttered gutters
the early sweeper will gather, making money
on the sad memorial, dreaming of next Flag Day
and the Fourth of July. Popcorn will burst
its tiny explosion, ice cream bars will melt,
children will think they gambol in a ballpark.
Then, then only apparent, I will see some old
ball players, the Earth-savers, underground or
remembering, chino-less and walking among
the very memorable names; comrade, comrade,
comrade or one's teammate, teammate, teammate,
illusions of the noisy past, clad in somber pinstripes
or cedar, carrying grandchildren, bearing them up
from under grass, evoking Monday of all Mondays,
those swift ball hawks, those young Earth-dreamers,
who survive in so many ways, that legion of names
falling across Saugus the way we remember them,
like a litany of summer evenings full of first names
gone past but called for the First Sergeant's roster:
Basil P., Thomas A., Lawrence D., Edward M., Guy C.,
Hugh M., Arthur D., Edward D., James W., John K.,
Walter K., William M., Frank P., Howard B., names
that settled softly called, reverent even for this day,
across a sun-drenched Stackpole Field, bat on ball
and the echo of a thousand games swung about the air
as if time itself has been compressed into late innings,
those swift ball hawks in pursuit of the inevitable; oh,
young, in May, the whole Earth suddenly gone silent,
but bound, bound to build memories, in May, in May.

©2001 Tom Sheehan (1st Bn. 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea, 1951-52)

Tom Sheehan
Tom Sheehan's work has appeared in Electric Acorn, The Paumanok Review, 3am Magazine, Eastoftheweb, New Works Review, Comrades, InterText, Snowbound, Slow Trains Issue 2, Stirring, Small Spiral Notebook, The Saugus Book and A Gathering of Memories: Saugus 1900-2000. He is a partner in, and his work has been nominated for Pushcart Prize XXVII.

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