For my father, Army Corporal, 7 Ordnance, Korea
Golden Gate National Cemetery Plot: 2C 4599
Thoughts on what’s left behind—
The memory of a houseful of mourners,
my aunt as she opened the old Frigidaire, saying—
Be strong for your mother, here
are dinners for the next 100 days.
Our old dog Blackjack who slept
on your favorite pillow. The two years
he napped there as if you’d come home
then died in the loneness of waiting.
I still remember the hollow of your eyes,
how shadows lurked through a haze of brown.
What voice must have said, there’s no more
happiness, surrender, take this handful of pills.
They say heroes die in the battle, do some
face the enemy once they’ve come home?
And where are your medals, your ribbons
of honor for winning a war?
Here, this souvenir, this gathering
of stars, this American flag that covered
your casket while buglers played
the day you were buried to the sound of Taps.
I’ve saved your drawings, your pictures
of stallions, and notes that you scribbled,
your jumbling of thoughts. Did you write
the answers on the bark of a tree?
Will it one day rot, too weak to stand, fall
onto itself against the cold earth, its canopy
of leaves splayed over ground, your sadness
removed where a cluster of dandelions rise
wild and free? Who will know the sorrow
that came to you? Or was it joy—
a vison of angels carved from stone,
a golden gargoyle adorned at the gate?
When I found you, your cheek still kissable,
skin the shade of water and sleep,
but too much time had passed to save you.
What life is so eclipsed by grief
death becomes a wanted thing? Was your last
goodnight an escape or apology?
Did you see an opening through a pinhole
in sky, a path beyond dark to moonlight?
Maybe you hoped someday I’d follow?
Was death so sweet a promise no daughter
could call you back? In my dreams your horse
gallops on the meadow, the one you drew
from a black and white sketch. Sometimes
you’re the rider, sometimes there’s just a horse…