gordon | a poem for veterans day

11 11 2008


Poetry Dispatch No. 258 | November 11, 2008


A Veterans Day poem Posted by Gordon25 on Thu Nov-10-05 10:45 PM

Though I visit almost daily, I haven’t been posting much since the 2004 election. Been doing battle with my own ptsd demons given new life by the insanity in Iraq and the hopelessness of watching the destruction of a country I once believed in enough to volunteer for wartime service (USMC; Vietnam; ’65-’66). I struggle daily to retain some tiny shred of hope that eventually enough people will learn the “lessons of Vietnam”: i.e., when you send young men to fight and die on the basis of lies, everybody loses. As Veterans Day approaches each year I go back through a lot of my old journals, combing through them for new insights and understandings. This year I pulled out my journal from the time I spent in a VA hospital after I got back, and ran across a poem I thought I might share with you. It contains no great truths or profound significance. But it captured a moment and I pass it on as a tribute to all my brothers and sisters in arms, past, present and future.. Thank you all for being here, and each in your own way, continuing the fight. For make no mistake, you are in a war — a war for America’s soul.


They were old men,
Smitty ninety-six,
Bill eighty-two,
sitting tied in their wheelchairs
in the hospital day-room
a single shaft of sunshine –

staring vacantly out the window
lost in a monologue
with Headquarters Planning Staff –
France, 1917, the mud and rain
and God! the pain when
the shell exploded –
proud because he didn’t quit –

And Smitty,
growling in a voice gone
harsh and near-unintelligible
from too many years
of top sergeant yelling
from San Juan
to Nicaragua,
through France
and Guadalcanal,
“Shut up, goddamnit!
You shut up
when I’m talking!’
I was in the field
while you
were still in diapers,
Shut up, goddammit!”
over sagging lower lip,
paralyzed –

Persistent in their
disregard for death –

VA Hospital,
Salt Lake City, Utah