Sunday, November 10, 2013

What Medals also Mean


No one looks at you as you pass
because you’re a dead man until you return.

(for L.J.)

You’re on the next search-and-destroy patrol
somewhere near a river.
You feel only the heat and your weariness,
the humidity and your thirst.

You can’t see through the squall,
but you keep walking through the gray sheets,
beneath a canopy of contorted vegetation,
along some twisted, dirt road.

You’re aware of the sucking mud
under your boots,
the elephant grass and the leeches.

And you’re thinking ambush and mines,
about removing the tape
from the spoon of your grenade.

No one talks about the cobras and vipers,
the mosquitoes like an artillery burst,
the rioting stillness that follows.

You’ve seen a thousand nameless places,
and each time it’s no different:
you fear getting lost,
that your weapon won’t work.

But it’s the quota that propels you on,
and you drag the bodies out in a row
to be searched, then photographed.

And you’d rather be on the perimeter
than riding an assault wave through this camp,
smelling of smoke, gun powder and death –
heli-lifted for a Purple Heart.


What Medals also Mean was originally published in Tamaqua.

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