They didn’t shoot at us. A silent scene
until we clogged the beach, and then — all hell,
potato masher hand grenades, machine
gun fire, artillery. I swear each shell
passed close enough you could reach up and catch
it like a ball. I crawled across black sand,
and used each corpse for cover. Don’t attach
yourself, is what I learned. Push it down and
crawl in a hole. Go numb, and you’ll survive,
maybe, as I survived. I didn’t hate
the man who charged me with his bayonet.
I crouched and shot him dead so I could live.
But the photo in his helmet cut my heart.
A child, smiling at me. And then I wept.
(U.S. Marine, Iwo Jima, 1945)
Tony Barnstone is the Albert Upton Professor of English Language and Literature at Whittier College and is the author of several collections of poetry as well as being a distinguished translator of Chinese poetry and an editor of literary textbooks. He has been awarded the grand prize of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival and is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. “Beach Landing, Iwo Jima” is from his collection Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, published by BkMk Press, and is reprinted by permission.