Monday, May 30, 2005

With thanks, to vets

For Memorial Day, here's a bit of oddly cut prose (I hesitate to call it a poem) I wrote in 1989 for Veterans Day. I'd write something different today, of course, if I set myself to the same task. But part of why I'm reprinting it is to put 'then' and 'now' side by side, so to speak, to see what seems different and what seems the same all these years later. (And what strikes me as most different is that in those days it seemed necessary to remind folks that men and women in the military fought for the rest of us and were deserving of our thanks.) The odd format is largely due to the fact that it had to fit inside a standard-width column in the newspaper for which it was written.

Veterans Day 1989

At Normandy
the wind presents
the years-tossed sand
for inspection
Scrubbed of agonied blood
spilled on D-Day.
The echoes of victory
and death co-mingle
The past's voice
is clearer
in the taverns
where the old men wander
and in the old folks' homes
and veterans' wards.
But even there
the conversations with
the past
drift off
like debris in the Channel
after D-Day.
Time has set its traps.
Those who choose to be
ignorant of the past
risk being entangled
in snares
the sadder-but-wiser see.
And yet.
The Veterans Day
parades are few
and draw but a few.
The veterans' hospital
is begging for visitors,
its residents
written off as
Stuck in the past
Or simply not in touch
with today.
We forget there are
veterans from peacetime
as well as war
Present forces,
young, with families,
serving this week,
like last week,
and next week, too.
We forget the nurses
and the doctors,
except the ones on M*A*S*H
While down the street
an ex-submarine sailor
could tell us what war
- and life -
is like inside a little
self-contained shell.
Victory Garden now means
a show on PBS.
And the woman
who could tell you
that Christians went
to death camps
along with the Jews
carried her knowledge
forty years
in grief-triggered silence
to her ripe-old-age grave.
I do not claim
that World War II
should be clung to.
Or Nam
Or our other wars.
What a thought.
But, maybe,
this Veterans Day
it could be different.
Maybe somebody
Maybe somebody
who never thinks of it
could remember
that freedom is bought
and the price has been dear.
And acknowledge the debt
With a simple Thank You.
At the least.

(Originally published in The Argus Observer, Ontario, Oregon.)

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