I’m trapped in this body. Cold metal forms my bones and joints, and the muscle and skin feel like a piece of rail road track to the touch of a soft hand. My arm is locked in an everlasting salute, my blind eyes forever fixed on a spot somewhere on the horizon. I ache. My silent, still heart aches. It burns to swell and grow and pulse. My eyes wish to weep and my arms desire to embrace and my legs want to run again. But that is not what I am meant to do.
In the winter the snow covers me, settles in my bent elbow and my shoulders, my eyelids and the tops of my boots. Blue jays are my only visitors. I can feel their tiny talons and feathers and imagine what it’s like to fly, and miss them when they leave. I am lonely, invisible to the people passing along the street. The frozen torch in my hand weighs the weight of a thousand slain soldiers, and their names inscribed in my cold heart are heavy, so heavy. I carry their memories in my mind, see their lives in my blind sight and hear their regrets in my deaf ears. I cradle them without ever embracing them, holding them, loving them, keeping them safe after death. I remember.
The spring brings warmth, and my metal skin isn’t quite so unbearable to touch. Rain washes away snow and I’m reminded of muddy French trenches in April – not my memories, but the memories of those inside me. Drawing on these remembrances I can see flowers bloom in my sightless gaze and feel arms around me, but I also relive dying moments, so many dying moments. Blood and muck and limbs and terror. They don’t mean to force these memories on me, but I must bear them, and they should be remembered. It is a lot to carry, but I would give this job to no one else.
In the summer I rust a little more, but stand just as straight. Teenagers sit at my feet and smoke stolen cigarettes and call at girls as they walk by, and there’s nothing more I would like to do than kick them with my solid iron boot. They don’t see what I see, blind as I am, or hear what I hear, deaf as I am. They don’t hold the memories of the dead and the gone. They don’t know that behind a layer of metal are the enduring moments of war and horror, barbed wire and gas masks, guns and boys and letters from home, letters they never got the chance to read. I am made of unread and unfinished letters, broken hearts and broken bones.
In these seasons I go unnoticed by all except blue jays and teenagers looking for a place away from parents in a world where war is a game on a screen. No one visits me, no one visits the memories I hold. We are alone in our reminisces.
There is one day in the year when I’m not alone with these memories, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. November eleventh. Every person around comes out and stands shoulder to shoulder, poppies bright over their hearts, their warm, beating hearts. I can feel them, and some of them are aching, too, the ones who remember. The weight of my torch throws out a glass circle and traps them all in my spell, and slowly I release some of the memories in my skin, my bone, my chest. I share with them the things we are supposed to never forget.
They all stand before me, taking in all the things I have to show them. They remember.