Long Island

“I found I was going to the window about every minute or so to scan the skies for planes, so I decided to clean house and do some baking, just as though nothing was going to happen. [The Japanese] didn’t show up and I was all to the good…with a nice clean house when the alert was over.”

Ruth Nichols letter to Aunt Cora, Kodiak, 1942

The slit trench dug behind the house—for when the bombing starts—is full of rain and blackouts have robbed all windows’ warmth, making the nights so dark. Downtown, drunks stumble from bar to boardwalk to the beds of red light ladies on the edge of town. Soldiers crowd diner booths for fresh milk and a slice of pie. Women line the block to buy pantyhose only one per customer. People go on dying in ordinary ways, old Mrs. Erskine collapsing after the dance, those Afognak girls and soldiers—a capsized boat and eight motherless kids left behind.

They say that down The Chain, planes are storm-taken, mountain-broken, fog-swallowed. They say most of what wars are is you just keep going. We go to dances, every week, tonight at Fort Tidball, Long Island, stepping from boat to dock, smiling shyly, wily, lifting our dress hems, velvet sashes trailing down a path lined with wildflowers. The summer evening light is all longing. Breeze slipping through lace like fingers over skin. We two-step foxtrot waltz, we dance the schottische. Blushing, brushing bodies, the hours both a forgetting and an imagining. How would it be, to belong in these unfamiliar arms

You’d be so nice to come home to, we sing along, Till we meet again, knowing, full well, you’ll soon be leaving, knowing her love letters wait by your bed.