Veteran Poetry, Memorial Day, 2008

 

Poems by and about Veterans:

The Young Dead Poets Do Not Speak


The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
Remember us.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

by Archibald MacLeish,
1892-1982, American Poet


                        THE WARRIOR AT HOME                                    
by Melissa Eaton
2/28/2009                                                                       

My man has been to battle
My man has been to war.
And it's really hard to realize
He's not the same man I knew before                                                                                                                                                   

I know I'm not the reason
He sits and cries in the dark alone
With memories of terrors
Even though now he's safe at home

But he's my hero
My wounded warrior Love
He fought hard to win our freedoms
But somehow he lost his soul.........
How do I try to help him?
Now his job is finally done
For he still suffers and is haunted
By this war that he's brought home,

I must remind myself each moment
As the dishes hit the wall
It's not me that caused his anger
I'm not the real target, after all

 I try to comfort him at nighttime
He cries out, and is soaked with sweat
Dreams of death are all around him
His war still rages in his head

 He medicates himself with danger,
Drugs and porno and the wine
I'm so afraid he'll overdose it
And be forever gone from time

 But they're our heroes
Our wounded warrior Loves
They fought hard to win our freedoms
But somehow they lost their souls....
How do we try to help them?
Now their jobs are finally don
For still they suffer and are haunted
By this war that they've brought home

There’s no end in sight
To this endless war
That they've brought home.

 

On the Death of a Young Suicide Bomber

                by Laura Carpenter, US Army

He tried to kill my best friend. 

He was enemy he was dead.  
I know how I was supposed to feel,

but I still can’t muster any rye laughter,

for this man whose corpse and car bomb are now cool, still, silent.
The nightmares lie to me.
If Freud was correct and our dreams could tell our wishes to us

then I must wish that his body was just dismantled.  
Spread about in wayward bits,

someone might come along to Frankenstein together,
I can see it all when I sleep, limbs torn from torso like puzzle pieces,

uncoiled entrails tumbling out the belly,

viscera still moist and gleaming in the afghan sun.
It isn’t true.  
Nothing was left whole.  
His clothing, white cotton streaked with blood and shit,

clung to the mangled steel in strips.  Like bandages dressing a giant metal wound.  
Sand colored dogs marred with gore,

tore flesh from carcass, and all around, the pulp of him.
Like kitchen waste left out too long stinking in the street.  
I know they promised him glory, they promise us all glory,
They must have told him he was off to save the world from evil,

ignited some righteous fire inside the membranes that split that day,

to release all around the pulp of him.  
The sticky softness, the juice.  
I think of my own body that seemed so solid a moment before,

a frame for armor, ammo, a rifle, a vessel filled with strength.  
But I saw all around, the pulp of him.
Human batter baking in the heat,

and I think of the body of my own son as he grows in the shadow

of Ft. Bragg, Pope Air force base, Camp Lejune,
soon there will be gi Joe's and little green army men, I know.
And an X box to spray pixillated carnage in his face,
and movies to teach him which people are good guys 

and which are killable.  
The recruiters will come, they’ll promise glory once again,
there will be no human batter in the ads, no sticky softness, no kitchen waste.
I think of him, asleep in peace,

for he has no nightmares of war to interfere.  
I want to still the gunfire, the bombs, the soldiers chance that rye, soul stripping laughter,
the naked malice they tried to make me feel and say,

Hush now world, a child is sleeping. 

A sweet soufflé still rising so desperately fragile.  
And if you must use words like martyr and infidel, or hero and enemy,

then whisper them.  Its all so desperately fragile, so easy to destroy,
 a clotted mess of protein in the bottom of the pan, a brown red stain, soaking into dust. 

 

The Man in the Uniform,

by Woody Powell, Korea Vet, 3/23/06

I saw a man, in a uniform
worn like skin, molded
trim and significant
with colored patches,
bits of brass, chevrons, bars
an accounting, I thought,
of courage and skill,
a story of to hell and back
silently spoken
into my cradle of uncertainty
bending me like a green stick
toward the siren song of
Duty, Honor, Country;
talismanic words
irrefutable
immutable
the common shield
behind which I marched
with others
into the mystery of war.

I am a man
without a uniform
without significance
without a shield
naked
and all too aware
of what I might have been:

A spirit lost
drained away
into the pores of the earth;

A spirit shattered
all there
but re-assembled badly;

A spirit draped
in the crimson robe of shame
endlessly asking, “How could I have?”

A spirit swollen, diseased,
infected by Colt, Browning and Boeing,
with the awesome power of death;

A spirit offended
looking for someone to blame;

Or, as it was,
a spirit confused,
looking for shelter
in a job, a family, a bottle
or just a space where I need not think.

WMP – 3/23/2006

Poems from the Welcome Home Project, Memorial Day, 2008

__________________________________________________________
Maggots and Gold, by Jack McLean

Create a village as strong as a war
To pick the maggots off my skin
And burnish the gold that lies within
This will renew the strength of my sacred core.
Can we create a village as strong as a war?

Jack McLean
USMC, Vietnam

__________________________________________________________
Old Timers - A Term of Endearment, by Melissa Steinman

There is no certain path on the road to healing. It is a direction
that you take out of a valley surrounded by tall mountains.
The underbrush of the forest is thick as a jungle.

From across the valley, a brother runs towards me,
and nearly out of breath he says, “There was no path
to healing when we came back.

But we are used to cutting through jungles,
we started hacking through the bush 40 years ago,
in a direction that might lead to it.

We aren’t finished yet, we’re most of the way up the hill,
but we saw you coming, so we ran all the way back
to get you.

Don’t get me wrong. The path is narrow and uphill in all directions,
but we have cleared most of the brush before you,
and as long as it takes,

we will walk it with you.”

Melissa Steinman
US Coast Guard, Kuwait Veteran

_____________________________________________________________________________

Lima Charlie, by Laura Carpenter

Dear god in heaven, or wherever,
Perhaps because my humvee rolls through the valleys of the
shadow of death --
Tagrab,
Jalalabad,
Kabul,

Or perhaps because this land looks so much like the picture bible
of my childhood, I look for you in its swirling sands.
Any of these mounts, it seems, could hold a Jesus
Preaching blessings on all that I am not --
the meek,
the peacemaker.

I went to three chaplains with my cloven soul.
The first one gave me medals of your saints,
Michael with his sword,
(they’re fond of that one.)
The second anointed my head with oil,
But couldn’t tell me why my cup runneth over
When all around me your children die for want of drink,
Their thirsty bodies too weak to scream,
Whispering your name.
The third offered holy water to douse me with,
While just outside two babies were sprinkled
with shrapnel.

From minarets they call out your greatness,
But the explosions drown their prayers, seeming greater still.
Mortars steal children.
Rockets crumble men.
“If any should die before they wake...”
(Well, you know the rest, I’m sure.)

The bombs rain down. Fire from above.
The mines, like geysers. Fire from below.
And in the streets the fires are burning.

We speak of fighting fire with fire,
Of firefights, firepower,
Enemy fire and friendly.

I plead with you for cleansing fire.
The candles burning on a million altars,
Smoldering incense, sage, or sweetgrass
Exhaling over the world.

Couldn’t a monk set himself ablaze or something?
(It seems fitting now.)

Or the one I was taught to call the Prince Of Peace
Could send his spirit down in tongues of flame.
(A dove would work as well, I suppose, the symbolism lost on
no one.)

The Cherokee and Navajo burn sacred tobacco to find you.
I, for my part, flick my seventeenth cigarette against a bush,
Hoping it may ignite and you might speak.

The brush catches for a moment, crackles, then dissolves into
silence.
Like static on a radio:

Agnus Dei, qui tolis Pecata mundi,
Miserere nobis. How copy, over?

Agnus Dei, qui tolis pecata mundi,
Miserere nobis. How copy, Over?

Agnus Dei, qui tolis pecata mundi,
Donna nobis pacem.

The silence on your end thunders in my skull,
So deafeningly
loud
and clear.

Laura Carpenter
US Army, Afghanistan

_________________________________________________________

Triggers - War UnWon, by Bob Eaton

Futile occupation Head full of lies
Hearts full of sorrow Doesn’t know why
Mind full of memories Living with danger
Bodies full of shrapnel Fists full of anger

Got to blame someone for whats being done.

Questions raised, as politicians scathe
Everyone is right while no one is wrong
Parents ask where their kids have gone.
Peace lies in wait only at heaven’s gate
Lovers are torn and babies go unborn

Full of confusion Environment unkind
Rules of Engagement Changing all the time
Abuse of detainees Desecrated bodies
Do what you need to survive No one cares for your life
Back home time to think Guilt brings you to the brink

Its not easy, hero unsung
What’s it worth when war in your head is unwon

Robert Eaton
US Army, Vietnam

________________________________________________________________


BALANCING THE BOOKS, by Cynthia Lefever

A Soldier Boy
A new husband
A Soldier Boy
A new dad
My Soldier Boy
A new recruit
My Soldier Boy
21 with zero dependents
My Soldier Boy
A volunteer: “I’ll go on ahead first to meet”

The Daisy-Chained, Roadside, Imporvised Explosive Device......

My Soldier Boy
Medivaced
My Soldier Boy
On life Support
My Soldier Boy
Cannot return to duty

Fucking Army Surgeon General
“Get him off the books”

Your Soldier Boy?
A new recruit?

by Cynthia Lefever
Mother of Rory Dunn, US Army, Iraq

_____________________________________________

Little Brother, by Dan Shea

He knew how
To push my buttons
And followed me
Into the Marines
And to Vietnam

He took my place
And probably saved my life
Alive among the dead
They sent him home in a strait jacket

We share the pain
We share a history of family
His wounds are deeper than mine
I just want him to know
How much I love him
But God Dammit, wish you
Had just left me alone

Dead among the living

Love
Bro

Dan Shea, USMC, Vietnam

____________________________________________

No Words, by Carolina Holness

She couldn't say don't go
There were no words
She watched as the bags were packed

She listened quietly, didn't make a fuss
There were no words
Phones rang, quiet conversations

Pictures were drawn with Dad's big gun
There were no words
Neighbors came with good wishes

Voices were kept hushed, but everybody knew
There were no words
More bags were packed and now we knew the day

Last kiss, last hug, "Be good, I love you"
There were no words
From an eight year old girl


Carolina Holness, wife of Joseph Holness, US Army, Iraq
________________________________________


UNTITLED, by William Halfmoon

I was a spectator among the sand
In the heat and the sun
Right near where the Euphrates ran
And I was there as many sides and points of view
Would clash over who could take more away from who
And the brown sand would turn red
And heavy collars would question the men
And others would drown our moral with buckets
of judgment
And time seemed to almost stop as it became
Less of a friend with each passing day
And I was there and watched as an almost
Perpetual loss of life unknown itself
Through our months in the sand
Then I returned home to our country
And as I would look at people in the street
As we passed by each other
None would see the side of me that
Left 22 brothers behind on the other
Side of the world

So those of you in this country whom I’ll
Meet, with a handshake, or a kind passing glance
My quiet demeanor may be a suggestion
Or side effect of the loss that I have
experienced.


William Halfmoon
US Army, Iraq

_______________________________________________________________
Our Journey, by Christie Jacobs

All I could imagine was your return
but when the time came it would take a turn
I was not prepared for what would come
I thought it would be a time for fun
Instantly I could see that something was missing
for the love of my life I found myself wishing
I can see the emptiness in your eye,
at times it makes me start to cry
I want to help you but I don't know how
I wish I could fix it all right now
I hold it in, it's not about me
for I do not know how you must be
I don't understand how a soldier can be treated this way
There is so much that I have to say
with each day I feel we are healing
As the layers have begun peeling
There are so many times I feel alone
But I thank God each day that you are home.


Christy Jacobs, wife of Jake Jacobs, US Air Force, Iraq

________________________________________

FUCK, by Mike Schenk

I’m just getting teared up.
Since my flashback my world has been numb.
Turned upside down.
I had to put my doggie down who has been by my side
for thirteen years.
I haven’t been able to cry.
It just doesn’t come.

We heard a story that mentioned
maggots being cleaned off a noble man.
The whole village came to help that noble man.
The maggots cleaning the dead tissue leaving way
for new growth of new flesh and
the gold to take hold and spreading the healing process.
Always remember,
PTSD will always be there
But we can learn to understand it and therefore live with it.

Mike Schenk
US Army, Vietnam

____________________________________________________

Oma Died, by Niels Daaman


1. Niels, Oma died...Mom, I am getting deployed

3. Please put your M-16 in the overhead compartments with the muzzle facing to the rear of the plane.

12. Release chaff...Fuck we haven't even arrived yet, and already we're getting shot at?

8. Wife? I don't know. Home? See previous question.

11. Alone. People say I'm not, but where are they then?

13a. Someone has been in my bedroom.

9. I can't believe you told everyone! What were you thinking?
I was hurt&you don't understand.

4. 1st Casualty. Now it is on boys.
Fuck...it's been on since the first scud flew over.

5. At least I didn't really know him. There will be more.

7. Cross the border to Kuwait. Relief, breathe.
Two weeks later downtown Baghdad again; disillusioned.

2. We're taking the church bus to war.

13. No longer home, still alone.

6. GAS, GAS, GAS!!!!

15. I bought a shotgun, that wasnt smart.

16. I can't go back. I can't go back! PLEASE.

10. I wish I were dead.

18. I'm going to the morgue and overdose.

17. Going to drill exacerbates his symptoms.

20. Doig and Dorris and Wright are going back. Maybe I should?

14. I'm hurt. I'm weak.

19. Where have all my tears gone?

Niels Damman, US Army Reserves, Iraq

_______________________________________________

The Last Field Dressing, by Mike Hastie

Above and beyond all things considered, learn to forgive yourself.
I don't care what you did or didn't do,
try to forgive what you've considered the unforgivable.
For there will simply come a day when you finally understand
that there is absolutely nothing else left to do.

Bring loving people into your life,
because you cannot forgive yourself alone.
If this was possible, you would have done so a long time ago.
Expose emotional silence, so your wounds can finally be healed.
It takes time to heal, so give yourself that precious gift.
Let the self-inflicted guilt die, instead of you.


Mike Hastie,

Medic, US Army, Vietnam
__________________________________________

Road March, Cynthia Lafever

Don't get me wrong - I know it was a dream

DO NOT get me wrong - I know it was a dream

NOT!

My dream went like this:

In the middle of the night, I sat up in the dark
And opened my eyes to see what was there

Dont get me wrong - this was an ordinary, middle-of-the-night dream

DO NOT get me wrong - this was an ordinary, middle-of-the-night dream

NOT!

This what I saw:

A soldier in camo on a dirt road
Without moving his feet, he marched to the foot of my bed

I saw he was young and strong and so very handsome
I saw his camo was clean with the collar starched
I looked down and saw his desert boots were new without a single stain
I looked up again and now saw only half of a face and one empty eye socket

Without speaking any words, I asked him what he wanted
Without moving his lips, he telegraphed back:

Be MY Mom

Without moving his arms, he showed me his clean hands with no blood or dirt under his nails
Without moving his arms, he reached for me as he telegraphed another plea:

Bring ME Home

I closed my eyes or maybe I just blinked
When a twin appeared by his side
Young and strong and handsome
Clean and starched with an identical half face and empty eye socket

Together without moving, with no signs of blood or gore, with no tears
The twins reached for me as they telegraphed:

Be OUR Mom, Bring US Home


I blinked again and then there were four marching in a row
I blinked again and then there were eight marching with four in a row
Then 16 with 4 to a row, Then 32 with 4 to a row
The road filled with half faces and empty eye sockets

Silently and respectfully, without moving, they marched on that dirt road at the foot of my bed
Until I heard their souls and their Purple Hearts start to roar
They telegraphed in unison:

Be OUR Mom

FOR GOD'S SAKE, BRING US HOME!


Cynthia Lefever
Mother of Rory Dunn, US Army, Iraq
________________________________________________________________

Ode to Rory, by Bob Eaton


Rory Dunn was blown up by a roadside bomb on his 22nd birthday 5-26-2004 and suffered traumatic brain injury, the loss of his right eye and blinded in his left eye He lost his hearing and part of his skull and still carries shrapnell in his head and suffers from PTSD. Two of hisbest friends were killed along side of him. His struggle to survive was further complicated by the military machine upon his return to Walter Reed. The militarys priority was to be rid of this wounded hero. Rory and his Mom and dad advocate for the wounded warriors to be treated with respect and dignity until they have recovered enough to return to society. I had the oportunity to meet this young man at a retreat to welcome home veterans of wars and was profoundly effected by he and his families courage. This song is for you Rory.
******
chorus
The Generals come in says we'll shed a tear
Just as soon as you sign this paper right here
They'll be tears of joy that we don't have to share
The cost of the pain you will forever bear

verse
Fallujah Iraq and another sunny day
Time to go out for the grim game we play
We're loaded for bear and ready to kill
But today the killing will be on our bill
Flash of fire and the last sound I hear
Are the sounds of my friends as they leave this earth
And so I die but before I awake again
The smell of death is burned into my brain
Silent sounds from those who provide care
And though I can't hear the screaming is still there

chorus
Then the Generals come in says we'll shed a tear
Just as soon as you sign this paper right here
They'll be tears of joy that we don't have to share
The cost of the pain you will forever bear

verse
Best friends blown apart in Fallujah Iraq
Why am I the only one to come back
Wives left alone with a folded flag
A child with a medal and no memory of dad
They're spirit lives on within me
Forever grateful I will always be
I joke and I laugh to numb the pain
Gets me through the day as it happens over and over again
My body is mangled and full of the war
Sometimes I feel I can't give anymore, then the

chorus
Generals come in says we'll shed a tear
Just as soon as you sign this paper right here
They'll be tears of joy that we don't have to share
The cost of the pain you will forever bear

verse
Makes more courageous to stand up and fight
For the wounded warriors hell and their plight
Left to waste away in a hospital bed
Promises of glory the generals said
As the generals take advantage of our war inside
And offer us promises and belittle our pride
Pinning on medals with much fanfare
While secretly planning how to get us out of there
I will fight for my country on my own shores
until our young soldiers have to fight no more

chorus
And when Generals come in saying we'll shed a tear
Just as soon as you sign this paper right here
I'll be shedding tears of joy that the soldiers won't fear
Saying no to the Generals standing there.


Bob Eaton, US Army, Vietnam

__________________________________________________________________


SEPARATION, ORDEAL, RETURN
, by Jack McLean

Graduation, Parris Island, and Vietnam
Separated me from my childhood calm
Graduation, Parris Island, and Vietnam

Parris Island, Vietnam, and all these years
Fueled my ordeal. Stoked my fears.
Parris Island, Vietnam, and all these years

Meds, Ashland, and Welcome Home
Are framing return to a life of my own.
Thank you, meds, Ashland, and Welcome Home.

Jack McLean
USMC, Vietnam