FROM THE BOOK
copyright © Michael F. Lepore
In a wheelchair under the portico near
the front entrance, he shares the quietness
with others—some legless, some mindless,
all waiting for darkness.
From the other side of the hedgerow
he hears sounds of youth in the schoolyard,
voices of play and excitement that ring sad
in his ears like hymns at a memorial.
Before he was married to this chair,
he would take pride in guiding young ladies
across the dance floor, their glances lovelier
as the evening grew darker.
How slim their waists were, how fragrant the smell
of their hair. Their hands were so soft.
Now hands touch him as if he has an infectious disease.
He wonders why he joined.
It wasn’t for love of country; it wasn’t for defense of flag.
It was for her! She thought he looked godlike in dress blues.
Yes, it was to please her! Now her eyes pass from him
to the strong men who are whole.
He will spend the remaining years in this place
he refuses to call home, and take whatever orders
they may assign. He begins to feel the cold,
wonders why they have not come for him for dinner.
Before the first faintest shadows
of morning light, he walks in a dream
through a jungle of despair, happens upon
a tunnel, like one many years before,
but this one feels different.
No sounds of mortars pounding
from above, no monstrous anger
of the guns. No blood, pooling on
the surface, staining walls of this cave.
He cannot hear the cadence of his heart.
He comes upon a large opening,
before him, a man sitting against the far wall
too lost in thought to be roused.
As he approaches, the man springs up
and stares at him in sad recognition.
By the man’s expression he knows there is no cause
to mourn. What chance encounter brings
them together here? As if reading his mind,
the man responds, “I am the enemy
you killed yesterday.”
In silence, he stares at eyes void of life
and knows no words of his have power
to heal the wounds of loss and disillusion.
What is done is done! The man lifts his cold,
gray hand as if to bless and with a smile says
“Now, come, let us sleep.”
It is the warrior that fades,
not the flowers. When did I
stop feeling, begin to look down
on the dying, unconcerned?
Was it the first time I felt
the scorching decimation of battle,
the fear of death, not realizing
I was among the walking dead?
When did my eyes grow numb
and my ears go deaf to sighs
that grew into moans?
Was it the thought of losing control
over ugly thoughts, a reluctance
to share my pain with those
I thought would never understand.
When did I lose imagination,
become dense as stone?
When did I stop caring, not only
for others, but even for myself
His bed positioned to give him view
through the window. He searches,
with tired eyes, for the youthful fluttering
of magic wings around the feeder.
On a branch above, unconcerned
with the adolescent activity, sits
a blackbird, staring at him.
In silent bewilderment,
he stares back.
Betrayed by the limits of his own body,
he fights a demon he thought vanquished.
Years have passed, only to have it return
for the final battle.
His daughters have come together,
one from across town, one from across
the state, one from across the country,
putting their lives on hold to do the duties
They gather around his bed, hold his hands,
warm his blood. They speak to him, invoke
past memories, rouse in him the will
to live, and may save him yet.
His mouth dry, he drinks, with aid
from a straw, leans his weary head back
with a sigh, as one who knows his labor
nearly done. He stares out the window,
the blackbird stares back.
After the Dance
The rocker on the back porch
causes the floorboards to groan
under his weight. He methodically
gnaws his nails and listens for sounds
In the breathless air outside the house,
he sees muted shapes in shrouds,
not those of brothers lost in battle
but old men
who died a slow, natural death.
He prays for no more war—he can still
hear the soft, quiet, persistent thud
that never ceases, those whispering guns.
Thoughts he silenced all day
again return to frighten him.
He never thought to spend more time
with family. His son had grown up
with a father who could not tell him
how much he cared. His wife had devoted
much of her life living with a person
incapable of expressing any emotion
except frequent outbursts of rage.
He never wanted to expose them to the
horrors of his mind. He now sits alone,
waits for darkness to hide his tears.
The Long Road Home
Veterans Day, a time for thoughts
and heartbreaks, for remembering buddies
whose lives’ chapters abruptly closed
in the rice paddies, jungles and highlands
It is difficult to climb above the quagmire
of feelings left from combat experiences,
to rise beyond the pain of death, to try
to find something good to build upon.
He joined the local detachment of the Marine
Corps League for support.
Symptoms he thought had been conquered
through months of therapy seemed to have
resurfaced. Long, sleepless nights, inability
to concentrate on any one issue tormented
his mind. Stress level increased. He thought
about putting an end to it all.
The Day’s ceremonies concluded, he moved
away from the activity, noticed a young woman
with a child of about 9 years coming towards him.
Before him the child offered a piece of paper
on which she had colored a red heart with black
words that read “Welcome Home.”
That familiar phrase without much meaning
this time felt different. When he looked
into that child’s sparkling eyes, something
changed deep within him. He felt a heavy
Unable to respond at that moment,
he nodded his approval, moved over to
an isolated bench, tears filling his eyes.
His torturous journey was over.
He was finally home.
Day after day, he treads the same
worn path. One by one, pleasures pass,
once high held dreams dissolve to dust.
His Vietnam dragon gnawing at his
being drags him downward.
He continues to do the duties he must,
tries, as best he can, to hide fatal changes
wrought by time. Still unwilling to share
heavy burdens that cause him to stumble,
he wears a mask of acceptance.
When age has laid its hand upon
the heart, and good friends begin
to have their name added to the Wall,
he looks at joy and sorrow
with the same degree of trepidation.
But here, in a garden beyond hedges and
gated trellis, a bucolic world dwells, a cloister
against the everyday gloom and despair.
Once inside, he luxuriates within a fragrance
Among the many quaint delights—pansies
with smiling faces and daisies gently lifting
their slumbering heads—from blossom
to blossom, regal workers with powdered wings
tend to the future.
He closes his eyes, smells the earth,
He feels renewed.
so still and peaceful, he can hear
flowers singing in the late
One by one they make their way
to the front of the meeting house.
Some by themselves, some with
their parents. All have been here
They form a group sitting on the floor
or on the one step, some vying for
the same spot. Soon, all are ready.
The lesson starts, energetic hands reach
for the ceiling, eager to respond.
Within the circle are sons and daughters
of life’s hope for its future. They look
upon the world with solemn eyes and find
many things extremely odd. He knows
that as long as they remain, they are ignorant
to the shortcomings of others.
But leave they must, to nourish their own
thoughts and opinions and uncover many islands
among a sea of wrongs. He fears that some,
full of innocent patriotism and the need to do
their part, will jump at the chance to wear
the country’s uniform.
He prays that they will not fall prey
to the trappings of combat. That policy
makers will finally learn how to reconcile
differences without resorting to war.
That they will fare better than he and
not return home with a head full of PTSD.