Bewilderment detachment; solemnly praying,
Ceremonial Presidential Wreath’s a-laying.
Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown,
Honoring the loss of Americans we bemoan.
Taps painfully playing; hearing a solitary bugle,
Accompanying the rat ta tat tat; the drum so regal.
Cascading tears bathing my flushed cheek,
The longer I stand, the more I’m growing weak.
Jo, a Vietnam Memorial Wall volunteer,
Recognizing the familiar gleam of fear,
Offering help up that emotional climb,
“Some vets don’t make it their first time.”
Pausing beside a letter, set against cool black marble,
Words piercing my heart like pieces of shrapnel.
A dispatch from Jo, to her husband, Bill,
The message passionate: my body expels a chill.
Reflections casting shadows over Bill’s name,
On the polished granite self-proclaimed.
We are weighing the wounds of war,
Comforting each other, and too many before.
Jo, Whispering, “Welcome home,” without pretense.
Feelings welling inside me with a vengeance.
Moving, moving without belonging: needing to roam,
Two decades passing; maybe now coming home.
Fourteen months of duty, then 20 years shutdown,
Jo hugging tightly: our tears kissing the ground.
Tracing names for many a veteran friend,
Too few years left; too much to mend.
A silver POW/MIA bracelet placed on my wrist,
“I’ve never taken this off,” exclaims Jo in earnest.
Col. Robert L. Standerwick Sr., the bracelet proclaims,
On the Wall a diamond, the uncertainty of his remains.
Pacing a moonlit path, painfully alone,
Endless names bathed in light: etched forever in stone.
Haunting Vietnam memories revived,
Endless names survive.
Emerging from a deathlike dream,
Eerie consciousness in an audible stream.
An unforgettable song latched in time and space,
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”
Feeling drawn to a crying woman looking askew,
Tearing a piece of my last dry tissue.
Sharing a tender offering,
Each new song reviving memories of warring.
This woman expressing calm enlightenment,
Hugging me with abandonment.
Tears mingling in loving suction,
A reprieve of war’s self-destruction.
A hand from behind grabs my shoulder,
I know the reach; it’s from a former soldier.
Reminding me when life was bloody.
He calls out, “Welcome home, buddy.”
An unplanned march to the Laotian Embassy,
Protesting the POW/MIA conspiracy.
Needing to go not sure how or why
Must go for those names that will not die.
Faces painted symbolically white,
Carrying burning candles of spiritual light.
Singing fervent songs and chanting,
Embassy personnel: concealed–not recanting.
Waiting to hear from Lynn, a hush in the air,
Protesters listening with rapt attention.
Sharing of her father’s loss in Laos while flying,
Shear strength keeps her from crying.
Speech over, Lynn now sitting silently,
Near the steps of the Laotian Embassy.
Pushing past the Washington police,
I’m sitting beside her now, near release.
Illuminating the bracelet drawn by the dim light of her candle,
Staring into the eyes of each other, more than either can handle.
Name on the Bracelet…that of her father,
An hour and then- embracing each other.
Back at the Wall of war; seeking a touch of peace.
Nearly one a.m.; will this dream ever cease?
Time; that unforgiving nemesis,
Oh God! Release the genesis.
Three A.M. and God-forsaken,
Writing a grieving letter–twenty years and still so shaken.
Pinning it on the Wall with a twig, wet and broken,
The message is profound, the gesture…. a token.
A poem I wrote on the plane home about 6 am of some of my experiences visiting the Vietnam Wall the first time in Washington on Veteran’s Day 1979, after 20 years serving a 14-month Vietnam U.S. Army tour of duty. As powerful as this portion is, I will present a more extended narrative of the incredible total pilgrimage to the Vietnam Wall in another post. The image is of me, and Jo as I was getting something from my backpack to leave at the Wall, photographed unknown to us by one of her friends. She mailed the photograph to me about a month later.
© 1989 Stephen Bruno
The poem really expresses sO very much. I think that many of us visit inside of your heart while reading this. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt poem and I hope that our thoughts and prayers can contribute to another way of dealing with International Relations .
Thank you for your service Stephen and to all that have served, serving now, the disabled, the homeless vets and to the unforgotten and deceased. My heart goes out to all of the loved ones left behind 🙏🏽. May this NEVER repeat. xo
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Tears begin to flow at, “Pausing beside a letter, set against cool black marble.”. There are no words. Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. Everyone needs this right now. Your words, your writing… all that you have to share in every way possible. The expressions that help us all embrace the vacuum and move into the deepest parts of our body, mind, heart and soul and feel the place that describes it all. You help make sense of the scattered and shattered pieces without the noise inside my head. Thank you so much Stephen for gifting us the otherwise hidden and unimaginable. ❤️
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Thank you for sharing this very personal piece, friend. It is precious and powerful. I am grateful that you returned to tell your story and to do your part in bringing healing to the world. With deepest gratitude, I honor your shining presence and join the chorus of sincere voices that embrace you and celebrate you home.
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