Anthony W. Pahl

EMPTYING THE SUITCASE

Part 1: The Suitcase

The battered vinyl suitcase sat for over thirty years,
in my wooden shed in the back yard of our home.
Covered with dust and grime, the locks had rusted over time –
two mouldy leather straps were all that held it closed.
The straps weren’t of much use; they were old and stiff and loose
but they kept the contents safe from exposure to today.
For the suitcase held a year, a year I could not bear
but a dreadful year I knew could not be thrown away.

Part 2: Discovered

On one fateful Christmas day when my grandson came to play,
in the shed he found the suitcase on the shelf.
He managed to drag it clear from the garbage stored in there
and called loudly for his Mum to have a look.
There was silence for a time but everything seemed fine
until Christmas dinner was ready to be served.
The roast was getting cold but there was no answer to our call
so I decided to check to find the missing pair.

Part 3: Confrontation

I felt a churning in my mind and a shiver down my spine
when I spotted my garden shed door open wide.
There was nothing at all in there that was of interest to that pair
but I knew the coldness of the truth had found the light.
I could not think real straight and my mind, it toyed with hate
but I entered the shed and gently took their hands.
No longer could I hide the horror that was inside
the battered vinyl suitcase that was open on the floor.

Part 4: Memories

I sent them on their way and asked my daughter to say
I wasn’t hungry and I had something else I had to do.
I closed the wooden door and sat upon the floor
with shaking hands and tears streaming from my eyes.
I reached out to close the case but staring me in the face
was a photo of me and Duncan “Mother” McNair
He’d been killed after I’d got back. Then my mind went back
to the year when I learned how not to smile.

Part 5: Amen

In the shed, a year passed by and then I heard a cry
and realised I was holding the holster that I’d bought.
Frustration was the pain for “nothing” had foiled my plan;
the holster was empty except to my anguished mind.
My family heard the cry and though they now knew why
(they knew from experience to leave me all alone)
But they decided to take a chance to shake me from my trance;
they felt that I was now ready to come home.

Part 6: Exposure

As our family sat under the patio on that special Christmas Night,
I touched and remembered all the things I had hidden from my sight.
As I took each item from the case, and exposed it to the light,
the reality of its touch told me that everything would be all right.

Part 7: The Contents

There were:

Photographs, the holster, two flying suits, a pair of flying boots
some jungle greens, a pewter mug, my dog tags, a bamboo flute
Super 8 movie film, my logbook (an assessment of my work and worth),
dry red mud, a filthy scarf and lots of letters from the world.
Combat boots and woollen socks, epaulets and children’s toys,
soap, a razor, and some crude paintings – each was done in oil.

As well as:

Toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving gear and a plastic comb,
sketches of my family that I drew when I was all alone,
undeveloped rolls of film – perhaps 8 or 10 of those.
My “figmo”, all coloured in, right down to her rose.
A flight jacket with my name boldly stitched in black,
the albatross sewn to the sleeve, more accurately, just tacked.

And I found:

MPC and piastres, “choi hoi” leaflets and a bag
containing an open first aid kit and what seemed a bloody rag,
And a spent bullet fell onto the ground, and I wondered at it all, until
a sharp pain in my foot reminded me of a bloke I met named Bill.
There were civilian clothes I wore each time that I went to town,
a torn photo of our hooch maid and some souvenirs I’d scrounged.

Part 8: Epilogue

And so it became a brand new time, a time for me to live,
a time for ancient fears to pass, a time for me to grieve.
For the vinyl suitcase is empty of all the terrors of the old;
it now contains the relics of a time when I was young and bold.

Ed Tieman ~ Spirit Warrior Award: August 12, 2001
Ed Tieman ~ Spirit Warrior Award: August 12, 2001
I know that you miss “Mother” very much. So I know that part is true. For the rest of it has to be true also. Very well done – give it the “Spirit Warrior” Award. I think you know what’s in my heart as I read it because I remember “Mother”.


Submitted for the August 2001 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “The Empty Suitcase