On Memorial Day
My mom's side of the family has a long record of military service, clear back to the Revolutionary War. I know this because of a family tree project I did in 5th grade--my granddad, who was in the Navy for both WWII and Korea, gave me an entire tree dating back almost 250 years for his family. Wish I still had it.
That tradition pretty much ended with my mom's generation, because my grandmother became a Jehovah's Witness, and raised all her children as such. They in turn passed it along to my generation, and while some of us have moved away from the church, we've never quite gotten back into the military tradition.
I almost did, about 7 years ago. I was twenty-eight, a junior in college, and a lot of my fraternity brothers were in the Reserves. It paid for college, and they got both a drill check every month and the GI Bill. Clinton was President and we hadn't had any major callups since Gulf War I, so I looked into it.
I got as far as the physical, and found I had a slight depth perception problem, which meant that I couldn't go into the speciality I'd signed on for. Nothing else they had to offer interested me, so I caught the bus home with everyone else who had taken the oath.
I've never regretted that decision, and in fact I celebrate it now, faced as we are with a war that I find despicable in every possible way. For all I know, I may have fraternity brothers over there right now--I lost track of most of them when I went to grad school six years ago--and I will mourn them if they fall. I respect and honor their service.
But I don't respect or honor this war, this president, this Defense Department, or anyone who suggested that this war was either necessary or a good idea. You folks can all rot in hell.
Earlier this year in workshop, a number of us got on a tear and started writing political poems. It's not something I've done very much. I worry about being didactic instead of artful. But I did write one, and I'm going to post it here today for Memorial Day.
Everyman and the National Guard
My friend Jesus, backstage in a crown-of-thorns
bikini bottom and a floor length faux mink.
I, practicing a benediction in Confession’s regalia
(dress rehearsal that night, you know)
To remember thy Saviour was scourged for thee
with sharp scourges and suffered it patiently
took the meeting as a sign. Jesus told me
how in Maine he’d pissed his feet
to keep them from freezing-—I thought
about the photo clipping thumbtacked
to the frat house corkboard; frostbitten toes,
blackened, separated from their feet.
It came from the Army Times my roommate
got when he joined the Reserves.
I spent two days once, taking the ASVAB,
getting a physical, ready to sign a six year hitch-—
they’d cover tuition and pay me besides.
I stood in boxer shorts with thirty others,
in a room so tiled it echoed breathing.
One man squeaked his bare feet on the floor,
squinching the arches perceptibly higher
so he wouldn’t be sent home.
The best advice the sergeant gave us
was not to clench during the hernia exam;
when I had to duck behind the curtain,
I wondered if Jesus would let a doctor,
let anyone slide a thumb up his ass
and grab his balls, would turn his head
and cough for the promise of only
one weekend a month, two weeks a year.
In the depth-perception exam,
I couldn’t pick a pale yellow dotted six
out of a green dotted background,
so I didn’t take the oath—-the Army
wasn’t so desperate then. I learned
in 2002 that my old roommate,
six months before the end of his hitch,
three weeks before his Master’s defense,
went to Kabul to rebuild the airport
we’d bombed the hell out of. I told him
to watch his ass and keep his feet warm.
Let's get those soldiers home so we can appreciate their lives instead of remembering their deaths.