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.
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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.
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.
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.
In his dreams he is still marching across endless paved paths on an Air Force Base that might be Texas or might just be hell. In his recollection, in July there is virtually no difference between the two. He stirs each time his Drill Instructor bellows, which is every few minutes, likely seconds in this dream. He is sweating through his uniform, finds it absurd to be wearing high combat boots in the heat and humidity. But he realizes that he has enlisted in the Air Force, a four year hitch in the theater of the absurd. He awakens in a sweat and peers out the window at the building snow on the lawn.
In the picture
he is young, wearing
a uniform that fits him,
has his name over the breast,
but his hair is longer.
The picture is a bit askew,
there is a clock on the wall
but the time does not matter.
He knows it was the radio studio
but others would not, the mic
is out of focus, the dials
of the transmitter peeking in
from the periphery.
He can barely remember it,
that is what 50 years will do,
but he remembers the parade ground
at Lackland Air Force Base
and the hospital
where they told him
his trip to Da Nang
would be canceled
and his life reinstated.