Words for Robert Reynolds (M.I.A.)

Bob Reynolds and Jane Reynolds Howard, his tireless advocate

Bob Reynolds and Jane Reynolds Howard, his tireless advocate

On this Veteran’s day I want to share a poem I wrote in honor of POW (Prisoner of War) Robert Reynolds, my mom’s first husband and the father of my sisters Tina and Carolyn. Briefly, the story goes like this: My mom remarried after her first husband was shot down over the Baltic Sea and declared dead. 30 years later after my father passed away she heard about “Ghosts in the Gulag”, American soldiers whose plane had been shot down during the Cold War and imprisoned in Siberia. She began a long campaign to get secret documents declassified. She discovered her first husband had been taken prisoner and abandoned by the government behind “the iron curtain.” She set out to Russia and the Artic Circle to find him.





First you were dead,

gone forty years.

Memory of my mother,

brow of my sisters

reminiscent of your picture.


Now you’re alive

in possibility.

Wandering ghostlike in cold Russia.


You used to be just the pain of my mother,

bottled up grief

never spilling out

of vacant doe eyes.


Now my sister dreams of grueling torture


on a father she never knew.


Cold sweat on waking,

she cries

curled up like the child in womb

she was in 1950

when the spy pilot was shot down over the Baltic Sea

and became a ghost in the Gulag

by our policy of abandonment.


Mom remarried,

had the rest of us kids,

wore widow’s weeds again

after thirty years,

only to hear the news of a possible resurrection.



Now, expectancy pervades

these epic lives

spanning four decades

and two continents.


Where are you now?

Beloved of my mother,

Cold War casualty

lost behind an iron curtain,

wandering in your destiny,

alive in our imagination

(with no official confirmation)

begging release from purgatory.


You are craddled

in the palm of God’s hand.


Rhea Harmsen


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at rheaharmsen.com
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3 Responses to Words for Robert Reynolds (M.I.A.)

  1. Jaleh Estes says:

    What a moving and heartbreaking story and poem. Did your mom find her first husband? Was he still alive? How long was he kept captive? How many others were held captive there? Was that common for the military to claim people had died when they were POW?
    Warm wishes, Jaleh

  2. Rodney Howard says:

    Rhea Did your mother find her first husband and were they able to return to the U S ? Rodney

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. wandraharmsen says:

    Rhea this is such an extraordinary story. Sounds like the makings of a great novel. I hope you will consider it.

    Much love, wandra

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