It is always odd watching older men gather to talk about their lives, about how much they no longer remember of last year and a decade ago, about the infinite details they do recall of their time spent in the army, air force, navy, the smell of slop on a shingle, the stain on the finger from field stripped cigarette butts, the olive drab they were and lived, the base post exchange the mandatory Ray Ban aviator’s, the sergeants grimace, the body count no one mentioned in the war they hated, wanted over, how they were all brothers in arms, now just old men, sharing painful memories.
I have fond memories of a childhood I never lived. Those are the best childhoods from for they reflect life as you meant it to be lived. In this life my father is in his late nineties, still smiles when he sees me, not didn’t clutch his chest sixty-one years ago, didn’t fall to the floor, didn’t leave me half an orphan again, doesn’t live only in the periphery of my dreams.
At night, in these mountains you see a million stars, but all you hear is the silence. It bothers you, this silence and you strain to hear, what? There is no one here but you and your breath is swallowed by the night sky. Be still for the wind will rise, and these mountains and these trees herd us into ever smaller spaces as we have been herded for generations, we will gather as we ride among the peaks and down into canyons, listen carefully, for inside the wind we dance around your ears, our songs faint. As the full moon rises slowly over the mountain listen carefully you will look for us but we cannot be seen. You will hear our song dancing across this mesa, one voice to another. You will imagine us coyote, you will feel a chill along your spine and we will fall silent. The stars will smile for they know our stories but to you we are simply, the songs of coyotes. Listen to our voices we will tell you of the land of the grasses once here where our herds grazed, now gone to endless sage. As we lick at your face taste the tears which have watered this now arid soil. Look at the flowers pushing out of the sand and rock, see our faces in the stones about your feet. You may return to your homes and pull your comforters around your chins, hiding from the night’s chill, but we shall remain among these peaks, in these canyons for another ten thousand moons.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2019
It is a simple two pronged pin, steel, a circle around the letter U.S. It has sat in my jewelry box since the day I clutched the DD-214, hung up the two or three uniform items I didn’t turn over to Goodwill, and filed the paperwork with the VA. Every month, when the VA Disability check came in, I’d glance at the pin and remember the heat of Lackland, the sound of the planes when I was out on the line delivering a manifest to the pilots, Ray-Ban aviator glasses, dirt cheap at the BX. I never agreed with the war, had no idea why we were in the paddies, but the U.S. was us and I owed a duty to us and served. I don’t know quite when it happened, but I look at the pin now, and wonder to whom I could send it for it now has no meaning, and if possible I’d really like those two years back, for I no longer feel a part of US.
Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan yesterday morning, when my father slipped away from his morphine dreams. Some would argue I cannot be an orphan at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved for children, but I am long past admitting my age, and my behavior gives no lie to my claim of childhood. I will continue to miss him, for his dementia stole him memory by memory over the years, and I was left to fill the void with stories of my childhood, remembered and imagined, to him there was no difference. I can now fully mourn my birth mother, gone for years before I found her, and my birth father, who I can now claim and at the same time assume dead, more a commentary on my advancing age than any reflection on him, save in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren. And now the two men who adopted me and the woman they really wanted, and I are no longer part of the same package.