A collection of poetry
by Patricia Wellingham-Jones
from Mongolian Art Exhibit
I turn a corner, stunned now by faces /
on the wall—masks of deities, shamans, /
in papier-mâché, carved wood, stuffed skin. /
Black brows pull down over glaring eyes, /
red mouths stretch in snarls or gentle smiles.
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I Google my name
and come up with yours—the exact reverse.
I think what if we went to school together,
what confusion there'd be at roll call:
Ellen Wade, Wade Ellen..
But you're older, a '51 baby,
a country boy from Rocky Mount, North
Carolina. And you're dead,
killed in action in 1972, when the chopper
you're co-piloting on a rescue mission
is hit by enemy fire and crashes
into a small island on the Dak Poko River.
When I think back to 1972
I see a high school sophomore
in a black-watch plaid skirt getting high
and I am ashamed
I didn't care enough about the war
that took your life.
But when I return to your death date,
April 23, 1972—could it have been Easter?
I can picture them stranded at the water tower
and imagine they wanted to signal
and you, navigating over
the northwestern edge of the Tanh Canh
base camp in Kontum Province,
wanted to save them.
But the enemy was waiting
That day was without resurrection in Florida too
where I was trying to escape the grief
of my Mother's death the month earlier,
consoling myself by piercing my ears,
eating peanut M&Ms, sleeping away
on a pull-out bed, and going
to a bar for the first time.
Smokey Robinson played.
I'd like to think my grief was for you too.
That somehow I knew, oceans away,
someone I shared something with
died. But that isn’t the care. Even now
I find you only when looking for myself.
I'm still that self-centered sophomore,
just a different self,
and you're dead now for some thirty years.
Then we were miles apart,
even on my radar. But today I found you
just beyond the periphery,
and I want to wave, want to say
I am sorry and ask your forgiveness.
Third place winner of the 2004 Frieda Stein Fenster Contest
sponsored by www.chicagopoetry.com
Ellen Wade Beals has had poems published in literary magazines (After Hours, Ariel, Whiskey Island, Quercus, Willow Review ) and anthologies (Key West by Midnight Mind Press. Take Two—They’re Small and Family Gatherings by Outrider Press, and Kiss Me Goodnight by Syren Press) and has had short stories in Willow Springs Magazine (1999 fiction prize winner) and Rambunctious Review (3rd place 2001 fiction winner). In the fall of 2002, she was awarded a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan, Ireland, to begin work on a novel. Work is forthcoming in Moon Journal.