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BOOTCAMP

The butterflies came in the night
floating through the barracks window,
mainly monarchs, orange and black
but the occasional yellow, with
more gossamer wings, and the odd white
with small green patches, one to a wing.

There is a corner in my footlocker
that is mine, where I can hide
the tattered book of poems.
A true poet is unafraid to write
an ode in blood, if the situation requires
drawn from her vein
by a needle or the baton
of the security force.

In the river downtown the cup
floats along, carried on the current
into which I cast my dreams
when they no longer serve any purpose.
I can easily aim the rifle
at the silhouette and ease back
on the trigger, but would the child’s skull
explode with the impact of the round
or merely cave inward, collapsing?

I can look into the mirror
in the morning, before first light
and see the shine on my head.
The cancer is advancing, growing
until I no longer have control
and merely respond to its commands
in carefully spit-shined boots
as though anyone would give a damn
waist deep in the fetid water
of the rice paddies.

The heat is unbearable
and you sweat at the thought of motion.
You, forced march from your dreams,
and the butterflies disappear
into the exhausting night.


First Appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Vol. 4, No. 3, February-March, 1993.

HELL, FAR LEFT CORNER

I suspect that I am not alone in wondering
if there is a corner of literary hell set aside
for those who foist clichés on the world
and at the head of that table should sit
the fellow who first said “time marches on.”
Even Einstein realized that time is relative,
and as one who served in the military
I can assure you that time does not march,
does not follow a neat, tidy cadence,
and all to often doesn’t know where it is going.
Time does many things, it can meander
like an early morning walk along the shore,
it can rush forward like the youth
discovering what he is sure is love,
it can even plod, when the pain is growing
and the doctor is ever so slow to respond.
Oh, and sitting next to our marching friend
I nominate the fool who thought that time
might actually fly, maybe hell will be fun for him.

OLD MEN

It is always odd
watching older men gather,
talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember,
of last year, and
a decade ago, about
the infinite details
they can clearly recall about
the time they spent
in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
the smell of Slop-on-a-shingle,
of field stripped butts
in a small container
in their olive drabs,
of the base or post exchange
where you could buy
the mandatory Ray-Ban aviators,
the Sergeant’s grimace,
the body count in the war
they never wanted, only
wanted to end quickly,
how they were once brothers
in arms, now just old men
sharing painful memories.