– And in the end, of course, a true war story is never a war story.
Basement cleaning in the event of a pandemic,
the paddle balanced on a beam
above boxes full of old
medical school texts, a pine board
encrusted with Phi Epsilon Pi,
Jerry Berlin burnt in the handle,
a relic with war stories to tell.
Rutgers 1943, my father Jerry
and fraternity brother Irv join forces—
knowing that the dashboard will ship them
to fight they enlist in the Army Air Corps,
study for a few months in a meteorological school,
fly to Greenland, and weather two years
Morse code dotted and dashed
wind and temperature data to pilots
on the way to Europe, the winters have survived
Kents smoking and shooting pool,
living house in ’45 with sergeant’s stripes.
Northwest 1968, when I join
Jerry and Irv’s Phi Ep, my lottery project
number a death guarantee of a growl
in Da Nang if I can’t be good at organic chemistry
and nail a postponement from medical school.
Like my father, I enroll a brother in brotherhood,
Future Doctor Joey G, our offices
parked side by side for a year
nocturnal carbon exercises
and its compounds, a second year
grinding for MCATS, brothers in arms
when we put on our first stethoscopes.
I’ve been telling these war stories for decades,
made them stories of friendship, of common sense,
good luck, and the strength of brotherhood,
although you can read them like fairy tales
about four rich white kids going to college,
join a fraternity and find out how to save
their battle tails, war stories
on how the privileged survive.
But how the stories change
if I tell you my dad and Irv were the first
in their families to go to university,
only to spend their life sweating
for a dollar in the clothing industry,
that Joey G was a Chicago South Side
Black man, first of his family to finish
high school, a surgeon at thirty-one?
No, I’m the only privileged character
in these stories, a middle class suburb
white boy who won some stripes
in medical training and practice,
reborn in quarantine as a medical poet
who survived his secret wounds,
the truth of my war stories contained
in a life that answers the old riddle—
What is the difference between a poet
and a garment worker? A generation.
Dr Berlin wrote a poem about his medical experience every month for 23 years in Psychiatric schedulesMT in a column entitled “Poetry of the Times”. He is an instructor in psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Massachusetts, Worcester, MA. ??