Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Veteran's Lament

Author's Note: This poem was published in the 2014 issue of Shades, the Columbus Alternative High School magazine.

Crouched in the mud,

Dirt in our mouth and eyes,

We would talk about our lives before the war.

One was a young father, one was a teacher,

One was a teenager barely nineteen,

His ache for his parents still sore.

We would talk about the girls we had been with,

The books we had read,

The classes we had taken at school.

The teacher was educated,

The father was quiet,

The teenager as pale as a ghoul.

As we fought bloody battles

And watched brave men fall,

Many supported the idea.

One that fighting the war

Was truly a lost cause

Against the juggernaut called North Korea.

Clutching our guns close to our chests,

We knew it would keep us safe

And protected.

It would save us from harm,

From the boogeyman of war,

Who was always ready to claim those infected.

He would take them away,

In his dark, cold fingers,

He would take away our comrades and friends.

He would never let go,

He was always stalking,

Ready to snatch us from right around the bend.

So we would talk about things,

Trying to keep our minds off of

The horrors of the terrible place we were in.

We would talk about anything,

Love, loss, friendship

And trying to save ourselves from sin.

One time we sat,

Crouched in our familiar positions

And we spoke about the feeling of death.

About the level of pain we would feel,

About what would happen after

We would die and take our last breath.

The teacher said nothing would happen,

There would be no bright light

Or great, awe-inspiring ascension.

The father said you would either go up

To the kingdom of Heaven

Or go down to the deep dark dimension.

The teenager had said,

He was wasn’t quite sure

What would happen when you keel over and expire.

He questioned the need of a God

Or a Satan,

What if the Bible was simply a liar?

Now this is just me talking,

He had said over the rain,

The raindrops clinging to his brow.

But what if death is just an empty void

Of darkness, of nothingness,

Ready to swallow us when allowed?

The four of sat there quietly then,

Thinking of

What the teenager had said.

Could it be true?

Could we fall into darkness

Once we passed away and were dead?

Hold on I said then,

And everyone got silent

I was ready to finally clear the air.

They all looked at me then,

The teacher, the father,

The teenager with rain in his hair.

Before I die I said then,

Looking at everyone’s face

I want to live my life to the full extent.

I want to get married,

Raise a couple of children,

Go to barbecues and pay the rent.

I truly don’t care

What death is like now,

It is far away from us here.

We’re going to survive this war

Go back to our loved ones,

Sit down at home and have a tall beer.

The others agreed then

That what I had said

About death had been the best one.

That death was a chapter

Of our life’s book

That we would try and forever shun.

The rest of that night,

The four of us sat in the cold

And made lists of “before I die”.

The ball games we would see,

The children we would have,

The expensive televisions we would have to buy.

That rainy night was the last time

The four of us soldiers

Would ever be seen together.

We would never sit as old men

And talk about the war,

Getting comfy in recliners of leather.

The teacher would die at

The Battle of Kham Duc

The young father outside of My Khe of an illness.

The teenager would get blown up

By a mine in ‘68

His body would lay in the ground then with a stillness.

Now only I remain

Of the group of young men

Who called themselves the Surplus Four.

I married my sweetheart,

I had two lovely kids,

But I now sit, knocking loudly on death’s door.

Vietnam may have claimed

The lives of my friends,

The boogeyman may have taken his prey.

But I know that wherever they are,

They are safe and sound,

Their souls are no longer astray.

I know when I die,

I will go up and away

To my own personal heavenly plane.

I know that I’ll go right back

To that cold, rainy night

And see my fellow soldiers again.

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