Poem for a Private
for my friend, Rim Dungey
Surrounded by wars I have found you
your headstone overlooking
the natural harbor of the city
where we grew up, but even its
deep safety could not protect you
from the wills of men bent on war.
Killed at twenty-one, your first week
in-country, on your first patrol
for freedom of some sort they said,
in South Viet Nam in Southeast Asia,
somewhere wed never heard of
in geography or seen on any map.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, the stress
was on us to get good grades, invent
a focus for our lives, older men would
draw our names toward war, we middle class
and under, conscript us into military service,
teach us to shoot their guns, to kill and hide and run.
Your plan, it sounded good to you,
but startled me into stammered speech,
was to volunteer, escape scholastic pressure,
do your duty and return, Americas
gratitude the GI Bill of Rights
for school, a house and a life ever after.
That last ride home from school
you gave me we smoked the tires
on your Dads old Cadillac, they
squealed like hell and made a big
blue cloud that stank of burning rubber,
us laughing in my driveway unto tears.
Your marker calls you Private, the Armys
lowest rank, you did not live for even
one promotion before you followed
Gods voice home. We pray you did not suffer
yet we fear you did, the land mine
blowing you up into pieces, an explosion of
bone and flesh we would not recognize
you screaming, you of the disarming smile
and garrulous demeanor perfectly dressed
in Ivy League, the style before the war when
we still had a certain class, wingtips
were the vogue and women had yet to swear.
Death does not promote, it just removes,
takes away, leaves nothing but a body
here for us, whats left of you is memory,
I wish there were more honor here,
there should be, after all, you gave your life
for our ideals, for the freedoms that we enjoy.
But history is cruel sometimes, and
this war was the wrong one as things
turned out, you missed that news, and
the sad return to a country that would have
made you mourn for its thanklessness, its
rancor toward the Veterans, we poor, unwitting, pawns.
You missed the drugs, the sex, the divorces, the pains of
readjusting to the unfamiliar terrain of America,
not what she was but what she had become,
confused and bitter and seeking her escape,
but there was none, our President lied, resigned,
was pardoned for nothing, a botched attempt at healing.
We still fight in wars, dear friend, and for
the same restated reasons, over and over, in
another country for other people, ostensibly
for us and ours but few believe that anymore,
we all know now its for the money, the rich,
the powerful, the oil, so round and round it goes.
Im glad you cannot see this, it would kill you
once again as it kills us a little every day
young men go into battles, and every day they
die, their last promotion Gods, their
final resting place here on this windy hill with you.
They fought: First, The Spanish, then the Mexican,
World Wars One and Two,
one was not enough, and next into
The Korean, Viet Nam, Somalia,
Afghanistan, Iraq, and now
Iraq again - the Middle East keeps calling -
and on and on, like drones, we just keep going.