I. E. D. by William Glose, US Army First Place Winner, 2018 National Veterans Poetry Contest
Like Steve Austin, you said, new legswill make you bionic, better than before, worth six billion after inflation.
You taped a photo of Oscar Pistorius
to your bedside wall at Walter Reed.
These were the days before
“Blade Runner” shot his girlfriend.
Before you penguin-waddled
on “shorties,” then ten-inch stilts,
then C-legs hoisting you
to almost-normal heights.
Long nights when you wish
it hadn’t been just your legs,
you dream of ways to twist
contempt into strings of obscenities
to hurl in daylight without aim,
the only target between handrails
a therapist, her hopeful,
“It’s okay,” she says, patience
reliable as phases of the moon,
every shadow-swallowed crater
destined to one day reappear
Buried within titanium joints,
microprocessors control motions
that bend and stretch the knees
and feet, adjusting for impact
of walking, jumping, climbing,
locomotion of daily life.
When red-rubbed hands tire
of pushing wheels, you stand
erect, silver gleaming beneath
your shorts, jostling crowds
breaking like white-capped
water round a stone. Normal
walkers have one foot in the air
forty percent of the time.
Even unborn babies churn
their legs in the womb.
Your gait shuffles and lumbers,
collecting glances scimitared
with pity. But all you can
think of is the Halloween
when you were ten and dressed
as Frankenstein, that revenant
sewn together with borrowed parts,
thankful just to be alive.
Squadron Requiem by Michael "Mule" Mullane, US Navy Second Place Winner, 2018 National Veterans Poetry Contest
Do not blame us.
Like our fathers before us,
we did not choose the war.
Nor did we choose how it would end.
We did not choose to live.
Nor did our brothers choose to die.
We chose only to keep faith
with each other.
If you ever knew us,
if ever you cared,
if ever you knew
on the wall
We ask only that you remember
some gave what they had,
and that others still pay
to this day
for keeping you
far from the abyss
from that day
Spouse of a Hero by William Kennard, II, US Army Third Place Winner, 2018 National Veterans Poetry Contest
Resting easily amongst their accolades,
They embrace you.
All I will have to hold is a tear stained flag.
Comfortable in the bravado of brothers,
Your legend will continue to blossom
In the minds of eighteen year olds,
The naive and blind in which
No wounds can grow.
Your gallantry is heralded,
Yet I am haunted,
By the pomp and circumstance,
Ribbons of red, white, and blue,
A daily anniversary of your death.
Why did you volunteer for violence?
“Duty”, “Honor”, “Country” “Brotherhood”,
The vocabulary of men with divided hearts,
The kind that allure with
Devotion, emotion, boldness,
Then crush in coldness,
As you walk away from the outstretched arms
Of wives, sons and daughters.
“Daddy” I wonder
How can you jeopardize the lives
Of those who’ll mourn for you,
When the crowds are gone,
While the grass grows in the lawn?
We’ll watch your medals collect dust
As our hearts daily rust from your absence─
Would you have even cried in Gethsemane?
I can’t understand the warrior.
Left bereft, to pick up the pieces
Of your parade,
Others will read of your actions
Holding aloft their arrogant sabers,
Praying their hearts, minds and souls
Contain the same fire─
An unholy trinity.
Do they too want to die?
Do they too want to rend
Where no surgeon can mend?
Memories, moments, space and time,
Septic wine I’ll forever be forced to swallow.
But now the world serenades at Arlington,
Round a six-foot hole,
As tombstones salute in stoic sympathy.
Put on the patriotic show,
Of the spouse,
Of a hero.
Home Without a Home by Tim Connelly, US Army Fourth Place Winner, 2018 National Veterans Poetry Contest
I travel with a heavy backpack
strapped across my shoulders, and a plastic bag of clothes.
When you are homeless,
these are the things you carry.
And tucked away somewhere
are the memories of a war
that are still fresh.
No yellow ribbons greeted me
when I returned home.
Now I soldier on each day
trying to find some place to call my own,
riding late night buses to shelters
only to be rousted out at dawn.
A private first class, now a second class
war veteran walking the dark streets.
Home but without a home.
Thank you for your service by Jay Wenk, US Army
First Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest
Gregory, nicknamed Raj,
from Bangor, Maine,
a vet of Iraq,
hooked up a vacuum cleaner hose
to his car’s exhaust.
These are today’s dead veterans.
There were others yesterday.
Living alone in a fifth floor walkup
on East 111th Street in New York,
Antoine raised and flew pigeons
from his rooftop chicken wire and slatted frame cage.
As he plunged into the backyard,
he took out several clotheslines.
There was Irv, Helen, George, Harold
Rennie and Harry.
Harold was gay, was called Roxy
among his friends, and he used a knife.
Frenchy never made it to the Post Office.
That’s where he told his wife he was going.
He drove head-on into the side of
a concrete bridge abutment
on Route 66 in Arizona, at 120 MPH.
It was a clear, bright morning.
A Lieutenant Carbonaro took his ’45 along
on a hunting trip upstate in North Dakota.
The medic who used to shoot up prisoners with
morphine, Carlos, saved up enough for himself.
He injected it while on leave, in Germany.
Angel, a guard at
our prison camp in the desert,
was a huge, smiling man, very friendly.
After discharge, he got a job as a warder
in a State prison near Biloxi.
He hung himself in his secondhand RV,
parked in a shady cottonwood grove.
There was Rudy, James and Eduardo,
living in ghetto flops in several different cities.
They combined booze and pills.
Reuben’s father was an Air Force officer,
so Reuben was born into it.
Everyone called him “Hey, Rube”.
When off duty from guiding armed Drones,
he loved to go up with the Paratroops.
On a flight yesterday,
he pushed his way past the jump master.
There was Bennie, Vera, Eli and Chris.
Chris was trained to defuse mines. Last evening,
on patrol, he jumped on one in plain sight.
The taxi driver who took Vera to
Chicago’s railroad yards reported that
she was drunk.
During the night, Juan, in Nevada, and
Eugene, in Colorado, both walked out
into their respective deserts,
stripped, in spite of bitter cold,
lay down, cut their wrists, and died,
looking up at the full moon.
There’ll be 22 more tomorrow.
The Corsairs by David Rogers Jr, US Navy
Second Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest
We found them, finally.
Bobbing on dusty languid
Bright white hulls, one tarped in
Orange the other in blue
Like circus tents.
Our thin gray frigate
And hovering helo,
The eyes of the fleet,
found the smugglers like we
Were told to.
The boarding team
Went across. They found:
bilges swished with blood,
shit, garbage and
the fevered wounded.
The refugees begged us to take them,
The smugglers begged us to leave them,
The desperate dove into the water
And the clock was started,
Counting minutes until
The sharks came.
We sealed wounds and
Left succor and direction.
The Somalis cried for their suffering.
Our crew cried as their witness.
The helicopter left, we left.
What could we do?
We were told to find, to report,
To help, but not to save.
Functionaries in far capitols had
Not yet decided to extend
clean white palms.
And we were just one small ship, after all.
Living is the Hardest Thing by Nicole Goodwin, US Army
Third Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest
“Where was your child when you deployed?”
“How long did you stay away?”
“Did you ever think you wouldn’t survive?”
“Did you ever kill anyone?”
These questions hunt me down like a boar
in broad daylight.
My apartment is silent,
but I can still feel the pounding
of the mortars.
The boom of the bombs.
These sounds rattle
my cage, pushing against
Each day threatens to
crumble the walls.
Sandstorms whip nightmares
around my throat. Breathe!
The air is brittle.
Trails of sweat dance
with traces of my tears
of salt. All left to conjure
a reality that is a dream
Memorial Day Parade, 2006 by Shane Griffin, US Army
Fourth Place Winner: 2017 Heroes’ Voices National Veterans Poetry Contest
I watch the veteran from
the other side of the street
in the shadow of buildings.
I hold my infant child
with both arms, tired and sore.
The Honor Guard passes.
My wife claps and cries,
From patriotism, I think.
He sits in his wheelchair in full sun.
His World War II Veteran hat
cocked off center, pulled down
to shade his eyes. He is unable
to stand when the colors pass,
but he raises his bony arm
in a painful salute.
He could have served anywhere.
Decades ago in that other life.
He could have beached on Normandy,
parachuted into Belgium, survived
the invasion of Wake Island,
Pearl Harbor perhaps.
But I don’t care to know.
I shift my arms, my child
sleeps. The high school marching
band passes. The crowd
claps. My arms are sore,
my shoulder still aches.
This body remembers when
I threw too many grenades
Taps on the Walls by Major General John Borling
We build tall walls of different kinds
For prisoners of war, or crime, or mind
Who serve, or crouch, or cry behind.
And if your freedoms you despoil
You prisoners cannot escape the toil
To stand and fight with mental foil.
Forced solitude when doubts grow rife
Make prisoners who build walls struggling strife
Then tap the walls to regain life.
Then-Captain John Borling was prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton for over six and a half years. He “wrote” and memorized poems to keep his mind sharp and his spirits up. He shared his creations with fellow captives by their only means of communication, rapping on the cell walls with his knuckles.
Printed by permission of Major General Borling and the Pritzer Military Museum and Library.
I Am a Free Spirit by Tristan Carson, US Army
I am a free spirit - an instrument of my life
I am the only one who can determine what my song is
If it is a song of beauty, pain or war
these are the chords I can play
I must play the song I want - with chords of strength and love,
to counter the chords of pain and anger I may bring into my life,
or allow to have influence.
The Past Cannot Change Our Song by Tristan Carson, US Army
The past cannot change my song
Neither should the dreams of the future
Sweep my tune away
For my song is strongest
When I reside in today
No more hurrying and scurrying
Rushing down that road
Looking for someone
To fill in the missing years
My song is my strength
And in it I find a light
To guide me home
To the bright morning,
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Passing the Lights by Tristan Carson, US Army
Passing the lights
I ride in the night
The streets are quiet
And the air is fresh
Fog hangs in the glow
Sparkling and changing
As the wind blows
Calling me home to my fire. . . .
These words are carved in the marble stone
In Honored Glory
An American Soldier
Known but to God"
Not far from Arlington's Cemetery Gate
By your fellow soldiers you lie in state
From a century of wars, you came to rest in this place
Guarded by your fellow soldiers, in stately grace
By your sacrifices a later generation would yell
"Hell no we won't go" . . .