Elegy for Soldier Who Returned Without A Voice From the War in Iraq
You came back from the war
with a silence you did not understand,
with a PTS other men in your corps felt.
As I walk through the Wal-Mart now
in Marble Falls, I think about the question,
ask myself, What could you do after the fact
of what was done to you but die: if not physical,
mental death? In my head, you're alive
in the beer aisle still with the fake ID
stuck in the back of your pants when
the Wal-Mart man grabs a hold of you
to ask, "How many kegs?" You're the underage kid
who used to cut every person you could
in the snaking lunch line, back when
nothing was done to you and never could be done.
You had so many fans as the varsity back.
The whole town worshiped you.
You took apart the team golf cart,
then put the pieces back together
on the roof of the school. No one cared.
You smoked a joint in the bathroom
each day, and no one punished you.
I remember you fully armed on game nights
with your chinstrap buckled tight
and your helmet's t-bar crossing over
your face, the thick shadow of it.
I remember the eye black and sweat
stuck to it, the way you went to school
all week for the scared looks you got
on that field Friday nights from behind
your facemask. I remember the pads
and spandex stretched over new teenage skin
and the varsity jerseys one boy on your team
referred to as his "game fatigues."
I remember the day we had to bury you
in them, and the whole town showed up
like the night you slid off the slick bridge
on a dare to the river of catfish and black gar
below. Seeing your broken body bleeding out
and bent in the shape of an L, I was reminded
of the football field just then, of the capital L
in the center of it that made you what you could not be
when your tour was through. You went to war
because you thought it was a game—
or, at least, might seem like a game.
You came back from the war with a new brokenness
and stood out on the grass of that field once again,
where you knelt down and finally cried.
No matter what we do in life, how can it ever be enough?
is the thought I keep having tonight at Wal-Mart.
When the check-out man asks me for ID,
I don't even hear him. There's a second
before I realize I am standing in line
with a beer in each fist, with my hands
in my pockets as deep as they'll go.
Getting lost in my head sometimes,
I have a tendency not to speak
even when spoken to—to ignore
everything around me except you,
the idea of you stuck to that fake ID
when we bought booze the first time.
I like to think, Before you fell, leaving the pavement
of the bridge, you heard the crowd cheer
and were swept up by a great applause.