Santayana said, “Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” We have grown adept at wars, no longer global in scope, but ubiquitous in frequency.
Mine was fought in the rice paddies of Vietnam, and on the campus where we struggled valiantly and vainly to protest, and when that failed, in the heat of Texas, marching about, going thankfully nowhere, shipped to Niagara Falls when the Air Force could think of nothing better to do with the likes of me.
I didn’t die, know several who did and sadly know Santayana was right for Bierce said it best, “In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.”
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.