MASKING

The Air Force shaved our heads, was it
because of the heat of a San Antonio
summer or that we’ll all look equally like fools,
and easier for Sarge to maintain unit
cohesiveness in his rag tag band
of semi-successful Army avoiders.

Now we all wear masks and assume
we all look equally foolish, knowing
the virus cares nothing for cohesiveness,
and normal is insignia only to dreams
and at times life is shit on a shingle now.

We want our childhoods back, before
the war, before the barracks and bad
food, before expectations, and those few
imposed could be ignored at minimal
parental retribution, we want what
never really existed, it is our right.

We marched and sang “Suicide is Painless”,
never believed it for a moment, but now
we consider it in passing as we walk
down the shortening pier
into the ocean of darkness.

First published in Circumference, Issue 4, June 2021

FLIGHT

As a young child, I always imagined
myself a bird, poised to take wing
the next time my parents told me
I couldn’t do what I wanted,
to swoop around, out of their grasp,
until it was time for lunch or dinner.

Years later my dream was to be
a pilot, Air Force not Navy, I might
get seasick and that isn’t a sight
even I would want to see, until
I read Jarrell’s “The Death
of the Ball Turret Gunner,” and
the ground seemed a safer place.

Once in the business world, I
thought about some day retiring
young and seeing the world
on the cheap, Asia, Africa, Oceana,
and that lasted until the second
time I had to fly to Japan with
fourteen hours in a coach class
middle seat on a Boeing 747
when my backyard suddenly
became the future of my dreams.

THEN, NOW

It was easier then, so let’s
go there, the spring of 1970,
the location is less important,
so long as it’s a coffee house
where those barely old enough
to drink, or barely short of that
age congregate, waiting for
something to happen or, I
seriously hoped, someone,
someone with little hair, but
who carried James Joyce in
his jeans pocket, Portrait of
the Artist the only Joyce to fit.

I had thought of Ginsberg or
Corso, a better fit, but too
intelligentsia for this audience,
and literature was not my purpose,
although I hoped they did
not know that, or if so, would
not hold it against me, at least
until after a first date and sight
of me in my Air Force uniform.

I did succeed that spring, so
my efforts did bear fruit, but
50 years, and a failed marriage later,
let’s instead go back twenty
years, to an Indian restaurant
where being a poet fit neatly
into the hip pocket of my jeans.

First appeared in the South Shore Review (Canada) Issue 2, Spring 2021

A FOOL’S ERRAND

Looking back, it is easy to see now
what was difficult then, not
looking like complete fools,
we all did, but knowing that 
we looked like fools and would
for the foreseeable future,
those of us lucky enough
to survive and actually have one.

We knew they wanted to 
break us down, rebuild us
in the desired format, always
bending to unit cohesion,
following orders thoughtlessly,
never questioning why we
were there, when those who
sent us were ensconced 
in their homes and offices.

Once a year some offer me
a free meal, on a day, they say
they honor me, and while I
appreciate the gesture, I know that,
for me, is one more fool’s errand.

MAY DAY

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.

First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020

FINALS

It was approaching the end
of another too long semester
and the sign-up sheet for office hours
was getting fuller with names
I didn’t recognize, or did and not
in a way that would please the student.
It was always like this, the two weeks
after it was too late to do anything,
when the pleading would begin.
I remember being in that position
almost fifty years ago, making my
supplication for relief of some kind
to a professor I had ignored all term,
and he, genial and gentle, taking out
pictures of the rice paddies
and saying to me, you stand
a far better chance in the Air Force.
There are no wars now that I can offer,
and so I tell them the bad news,
but add that Starbucks can
be a career of sorts, with benefits.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

SMART ONES

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

CRAFTY MOON

The moon hid from me last night
in a cloudless sky, and only a week from full,
so we both knew it was there, peeking
for a brief moment from behind
the old oak in the neighbors yard.
It wasn’t the first time the moon
had done this, it will not be the last
either, I am certain, but I do remember
the time in 1970, the heat of San Antonio
in mid-summer more oppressive than usual
and only the old barracks
for the moon to use as hiding place.
Yet it hid, and that night I didn’t mind
Lying in the base hospital, where the nurses
ignored me for the seriously wounded, as they should
reading the orders issued that day transferring me
to the Reserves as my fellow air policemen
in my training squadron were calling home,
most in shock, to announce that their plan
to avoid Vietnam by enlisting would soon
be scattered on the tarmac of Da Nang Air Base.

ON THE FLIGHTLINE

We sit on our lanai, which
the birds will tell you is
the backyard of their preserve
and watch the sun bid
its blazing farewell to this day.

The birds begin their scheduled
return, ibis in groups,
the self-declared top guns
flying in hot and flat, only
dropping their arrestor hook
as the approach the deck.

The egrets fly in solo
carefully circling, then
extending their landing gear
until they gently alight
and await their next mission
which will come with dawn.

Through it all the anhinga
perch on the bare branches,
offering their direction, happy
to play air traffic controller,
but the limpkins find
my whole metaphor foolish
and too loudly let me know.

RECALL

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.