Wednesday, January 2, 2008
A Man in Black
On a jet plane to old Vietnam,
it's not my war
not my time
I'm filing past the boys... Men, as they say they are, but boys all the same--peach fuzz stubble, eyes darting to everything around them, toward the the front, to a future they do not quite know how to meet.
And the man in black is among us, we all know he's here.
Taking a seat by the window,
I buckle in for the long flight.
Johnny Cash is there, singing
in deep, nearly inaudible tones.
He tells me this is the first sunset he's seen since he don't know when--
it's to this that I so relate.
The sun departs in pink haze, but this modern iron bird will catch it, pass it on our way west to the war-torn east out of the rising sun. Time itself is an old man playing old games, over and over again, the same songs of greed and power. Time marches through the underbrush far below, stalking day and night, knowing that our hands are tied, that the seconds move forward and backward, left and right. We stand beside it and watch the trains go by, bullets with names on their shells ripping through the boiling air around us. A bugle mourns a thousand days down--names, ranks, and serial numbers lingering in its hoarse wail.
Johnny sings to me:
"Life ain't easy
for a boy named Sue."
I could cry blood and tears if I weren't a boy with standing orders to be a man.
The air gathers us to its expansive, windblown breast, our last kiss goodbye, goodnight.
Johnny leans in so close
I can smell the whiskey
stale smoke of dead nights
and I'm there in that cell
with him as he sings to me
a requiem of the blues.
"Smoke em' if you got'em, kid"
he says through his scratchy
Marlboro and scotched voice.
He sings his song to the boy-men living for the moment, as today becomes tomorrow somewhere over the Pacific. We, the citizens of this flying prison cell, ironbird cage, a gunboat on the river Styx, hold copper coins in shaking hands to pay our way to Hades in the jungle of a foreign land. On strict orders to take life and death as they come, we salute him who sings this song.
The man in black soon falls silent the rest of the way in-country.
As we step down onto the broken land we are told to die for, waving goodbye to the coffin as it takes off to fetch more living dead boy-men. We march with steel barrels clutched in hands and held at our our backs--guns pointed at every creeping shadow, we, the boys to men to bodies alone in the peace of pine boxes, burnt up in a ring of hellfire fire, perpetuated by some Neo-Napoleon, some Johnson tool, or hiding under a Bush.
A man in black puts his hat low to cover his face, shedding a tear for each one who won't see home again...
and a sigh for those left in the void between.
Another Man in Black who knows the day,
the hour, the minute, the second
of the end...
He is waiting to call us to his cold breast.
No song does he sing, but the music he knows all the same.
I would like to thank all the men and women of the armed forces who have sacrificed their time, their freedom or their life in service to this country. Many of my own family are among these. It's the struggle for peaceful solutions, the struggle with surviving in hostile lands, both for their generation and ours that inspires this work. Many have given much and all for something they did not agree with--but still they did what they had to do. The blessing given me by my uncles who served, as well as my aunts who waited for them with staccato heartbeats, is something I'll always respect. It is they who so often wish they could not remember what they have seen that I have written this for.
Peace and love, y'all.