Uncle Charlie

My Uncle Charlie had been destroyed in the war;
He couldn’t speak, was paralyzed from waist to feet.
A small part of his brain was permanently dead.
But in his wheelchair day after long day he sat
And listened to the music on the radio.
The classics—that was all he cared to listen to—
His Bach, his Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff,
And many others, too, but nothing frail or sad.
When something mournful played, he quickly turned it off.
He didn’t like us to come and see him too much;
He was averse to pity and soft-voiced concern.
His lively black eyes flashed and sparked when listening,
And seemed to lash like a driving and laughing whip.

One winter day he spun his chair around on me
And looked at me very steadily in the eye.
I’d brought up a tray with his mid-day meal just when
A triumphant climax was loudly pouring forth.
The walls and floor, the windows, seemed to shake with it,
And I felt, too, the thrillingest great life of it,
So wildly proud and fiery, indomitable.
My Uncle Charlie’s face and forehead almost blazed.
He looked straight at me hard, right through me hard and long,
And I looked all the way back into his pure, grand world.
Then, seeming satisfied, he spun on back again.

A few days later, when I was gone, came the end.
My aunt was there alone, cleaning the kitchen, when
She heard a powerful shout. Quick upstsairs she ran—
To find Uncle Charlie standing, standing up!
He turned to her with a tremendous look of pride,
Then winked, then closed his eyes, and slowly dropped, and died.

His funeral had no black-robed priest or grim pastor;
Just me, my aunt, a few old friends from fighting days.
I spoke these words: “You lived your whole life your master,
Uncle Charlie, deserving only songs of praise,
And joy, and victory; and so, my soldier friend,
I will remember what you gave me to the end,
And I will stand alone, as you stood up in pride,
And I will take for us one sovereign, manly stride.

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