Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | March 29, 2015

For Vietnam Veterans Day

A Vietnam Vet is standing, dressed in old gear waiting for the approach of a parade. Those in the parade are victorious troops from Desert Storm.  The troops are being welcomed home by ecstatic crowds. He cannot forget what he left behind and what encountered when he came home.

Now, it appears that America is, at long last, ready to welcome us back.


I had that dream again last night,
or maybe today…
dressing for a parade,
but couldn’t find everything I needed;
medals, rank insignia, or unit crests;
always something different,
-always something missing.

Memories of war
at first
ran just under my feet,
like foreshortened shadows
following at midday,
when yesterday was no more
than darkness
before this day’s light.
All senses remembered too much
and fear stabbed the gut
like frozen glass shards
or rage stung
like sweat in an open gash.

But here I stand anyway,
among all these people on main street,
-still wearing my green beret,
– my faded tiger-stripe fatigues,
and waiting for the homecoming parade
under this new American sky.

I’m looking through the crowd
for others,
wondering if their uniforms fit
and if they have their ribbons.
Months of war-stretched memory
numbed into distortion.
A long darkness trailed my boots
leaving only momentary shade
and disappearing holes
in watery mud.
Footprints in tall grass lifted back
stretched in long afternoon sun
unbent again by evening.
Showing no sign of passage.

Trumpets sound–
so distant that fluttering banners
and muffled pop of yellow ribbons
hide their songs.
American flags reach from every lamppost
like open arms
stretching in spring winds
to touch and bless
victorious columns in desert tan.

Shadows hide in night
like war’s remembering,
waiting for morning to cling,
mocking every clumsy movement
faster than running can escape.
Burning through flesh like white phosphorous
cleaving to the bone
with a phantom ache of loss
like pain in an amputated limb.

I cannot march to this coming drum
Bouncing too loudly against my ears
and echoing back from The Wall;
my uniform is out of date,
-colors out of style,
-decorations incomplete.

Unfaithful visions,
-blacker in strange winter light
mutable as shifting colors
walking beside me on unquiet waters.

That old land may have remembrance,
                                        but not of me.
My passing shadow touched its earth
more faintly than the wavering reflection
I throw in a lake.

when the brassy Stars and Stripes Forever
leads young heroes past chanting crowds
my toes, in worn-out jungle boots
will twitch to feel the rhythmic stamp,
my shoulder will bear the rifle’s weight,
and my ears,
filled with the surf beat of welcoming cheers
will let me pretend,
for a time,
I did not return alone.

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