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These Brothers They: A Memorial Poem

May 26, 2008
these brothers they broadside published in ARTLIFE 1999

these brothers they broadside published in ARTLIFE 1999

These Brothers They

Let me tell you
what I know about the Vietnam War.
I know nothing
except
I didn’t understand the headlines
I couldn’t look at the pictures
My parents sold the TV.

Let me tell you what
I know about the Vietnam War.
I know nothing
except
it seemed dramatic, romantic, exciting
dancing girls, long hair, flowing skirts
angry faced raggedy protesters
yelling and waving signs
I flashed peace signs at strangers
my father called me passé
I didn’t understand why they burned that bank
or why my father’s face grew dark.

Let me tell you what I
know about the Vietnam war.
I know nothing
except
the boys that came back
wiry, tattooed, eyes flashing wild
addicts all clinging to Jesus
these boys they
took my seven year old hand they
held it held it held it
I didn’t understand what
I saw in eyes that burned into mine
I didn’t know what to say about their nightmares
but when they gave me their dreams
I wanted him to sail around the world
and him to travel to Africa
send me postcards
come back for me
build me a house
grow a garden
I would stay sweet and honest
I would keep listening
these boys these brothers they
worshipped my mother, my father
these boys these brothers they
stayed with us they
hugged and played with
my younger sister, my brother, they
gathered near, too near
as if by touching us they
could touch Peace.

Let me tell you what I know
about the Vietnam war.
I know nothing
except
these young men their eyes
winning one battle only to lose
this other these boys I knew
who came back they these brothers they
didn’t really come back
these boys these brother they
died here disappeared here they
took a part of me with them.

Let me tell you what I know about
the Vietnam war.
I know nothing
except
I was born in 1962
I have lived twice as long as
these boys, these brothers
I lived for 10 more years but
they didn’t come back
I lived for twenty more years and
they haven’t come back and
I have lived for 30 more years and
when I see one on the street
Levi’s hung low over boy hips
white t-shirt pulling tight over
worked muscles: could it be he?
No.
If he had survived
the demons, the addictions he
would be 50 he
would have sons he
would have grandsons and
his children his
grandchildren he
would take a hand in his
and hold it hold it hold it.

In the US, we celebrate Memorial Day today. Few of us do more than take advantage of a day off, but we have a day off to remember those who have lost their lives to war. For me, remember those who have gone to war reminds me of the importance to work for peace.

A little background to this poem: in the late 1960s and early 1970smy mom worked with Viet Nam war vets and other addicts in the Port Hueneme area near Point Mugu Base. Because of the Port and the Base, drugs were very easy to find. For many years, I wanted to write about the war and the vets I knew, and the sorrow I felt, and one day at a stop light this poem came to me, and I wrote it down. Yes, I am the speaker in the poem.

you might also check out readwritepoem and take a ride on the poetry train

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. stushie permalink
    May 27, 2008 12:08 am

    A beautiful poem.

    Here’s mine

    Memorial Day Sonnet

    If Liberty means anything to me,
    I will remember what my freedom cost,
    By those who gave their all to keep me free,
    Whose lives were sacrificed, but never lost.
    I will remind myself of what they did,
    And keep them dearly cherished in my heart;
    Their honor never from me shall be hid
    And I will know they always did their part
    To save our nation and its people here,
    To pledge their lives in defense of our ways,
    To show that freedom always outlives fear,
    And sacrifice is hallowed all our days.
    If Liberty means anything to me,
    I will remember those who kept me free.

    © John Stuart 2008
    Pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church,
    Knoxville, Tennessee

    Audio at:
    [audio src="http://media.libsyn.com/media/stushie/Memorial_Day.mp3" /]

  2. May 27, 2008 12:21 am

    very heartfelt! thank you for sharing your poem!

  3. May 27, 2008 1:01 am

    That’s the kind of poem I would write about Vite Nam. I really don’t know enough about it, either, except what I saw when the soldiers came home. So, so well written!

  4. May 27, 2008 1:29 am

    quite nice..glad you had to stop at a redlight so you could write this poem…

  5. May 27, 2008 7:25 am

    AP that’s solid… it landed… I got how it affected you. Very authentic. It would make such an excellent performance piece. I like so much of it, but this chunk stood out for me:

    the boys that came back
    wiry, tattooed, eyes flashing wild
    addicts all clinging to Jesus
    these boys they
    took my seven year old hand they
    held it held it held it
    I didn’t understand what
    I saw in eyes that burned into mine
    I didn’t know what to say about their nightmares
    but when they gave me their dreams
    I wanted him to sail around the world
    and him to travel to Africa
    send me postcards
    come back for me
    build me a house
    grow a garden
    I would stay sweet and honest
    I would keep listening

  6. November 11, 2008 9:36 pm

    That is a wonderful moving tribute poem. The repetition gives it a kind of haunting melodic quality and the unique personal perspective gives the poem depth and resonance, raises it above the generic. Poetry can have a purpose beyond self expression, it can be used as a way of remembering and embedding certain ideals and this poem is a perfect example of that.

  7. November 13, 2008 8:21 pm

    This is extremely powerful.

  8. May 31, 2010 11:44 pm

    Better not to know, but don’t let that allow us to forget.

Trackbacks

  1. memorial poem for father
  2. Conceptual Poetry Conference: a poem w/constraint pt 1 (Days 1&2) « art predator
  3. A Poem for the Viet Nam War Veterans I knew when I was a child « art predator
  4. A Poem for Memorial Day 2010: These Brothers They « art predator

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