A Poem for Memorial Day

Ten Years Gone

Ten years gone, 19 years old and naive
back flat against red Georgia clay-dirt
which wicks the sweat from my Army P.T. shirt
legs at roughly a 45 degree angle from the ground
hands to my sides, or tucked beneath my back
to protect a sore that had formed over my tailbone
teeth clenched and lightly caked with dust
eyes shut tight to avoid the relentless southern sun
and the frequent streams of sweat that run down my face
into a pool forming at the base of my neck
mind still full of the bullshit one believes
prior to knowing much of anything
unaware that by nine years gone
a different soil would claim my water

Nine years gone, 20 years old and a bigot
seated on the gunner’s strap of a soft-skinned HMMWV
in Baghdad Iraq, the air apparent
radiating off buff colored buildings and yellowed Mercedes
fenders, quarter panels, and doors painted odd colors
or as often, simply removed
my whole world seemed caked with dust
fearful gaze fixed fast on anything and everything but
frequent streams of five-five-six could make me scream
fuck no, I’m not afraid!
mind so full of the hatred one acquires
following fear and death and failure
praying that by eight years gone
a different soil might claim my water

Eight years gone, 21 years old and tired
lead foot flat against that Chevrolet floorboard
attempting to feel something worthwhile
something but the numbness and the nothing, just this nothing
and the thought that all of life’s pleasures and pains
may rightfully be retained from someone like me
ever recollecting how heinous I could be
knowing of a part of me I’d rather not have seen so
frequent dreams of who I’d been came crashing back at me
and into the hollow forming at the core of me
mind now full of the resentment one compounds
following loss without grief or healing
without concern for “life goes on”
that the earth continues to claim our water

My younger years gone, years older, still alive
feet feeling the sand, wading into warm water
fishing pole over my shoulder on a lake in fair Michigan
wind at my back, sweet scent of honeysuckle
my line flies fine, shot fired with great accuracy
the tug and the feel of the lure as I reel, heals me
eyes silently searching for the eddies and stills
for my next opportunity
I frequent streams, the calm it brings makes me sing
fuck no, I’m not afraid
mind now equipped with the wisdom one acquires
having survived the times that try you
with the utmost concern that life should go on
that the earth may continue to cleanse with her water 

(This poem comes from Warrior Writers, a non-profit organization that teaches and gives space for veterans to write and create art about their experiences. You can donate here.)