Hometowns ||| Standing Watch

the background needs revising
you can return to your hometown
—Bei Dao

So long as there’s a hometown
you’re not free
—Ko Un


When you say
hometown, you mean the place
where an old girl friend I hurt
in the sixth grade still holds it
against me. She sits in the
bowling alley bar, wearing her
third divorce like a temple veil,
listening to echoes of collision.

You mean where family
gathers in the backyard of
my widowed father, drinks
Miller High Life, eats
seared meat with my aunt’s
potato salad, talks baseball
and the progress of war.

Where, when I return from
sea, peacoat collar turned up
against the wind, seabag
full of uniforms, books, poems,
someone shouts my name from
the parking lot of the market,
making me forget F-4 Phantoms
and A-4 Skyhawks returning
from bright green jungles
or those that didn’t return,
fire their last memory.

Remembrances are the blind
beginning. Hometowns don’t
exist. Too much drifting, too
much moving, too much fire,
too much time at sea leaves only
faint shadows—scenery, people,
villages swept away like smoke.


Stan Zumbiel is retired after having taught English in middle and high school for thirty-five years. He has had a hand in raising four wonderful children. He wrote his first poem in 1966 while serving in the United States Navy. He sat on the board of the Sacramento Poetry Center for twenty-five years. In 2008 he received his MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. While Standing Watch is his first collection, previously his poems have appeared in Poet News, Nimrod, The Suisun Valley Review, Primal Urge, Convergence, Word Soup, Slipstream, and Medusa’s Kitchen. He continues to write in his Fair Oaks home that he shares with his wife Lynn.

“Hometowns” was originally published in Standing Watch (Random Lane Press, 2016)