Monday, July 17, 2017

At the VA Hospital, White River Junction

Visions of Warriors, 5th of July 2017
Overheard in the Eye Clinic
Veterans Hospital, White River Junction

Three today, with attentive companions
The first came in with a demonstrative blond
Like a wife, maybe too young, as old as I, a daughter?
”I’m going to the bathroom, don’t do anything,” she commanded.
He remained mute, nodding, his mind
Like his one eye, behind a patch, elsewhere
Away from her loud pecking voice
Upon returning she snatched
The newspaper from his hands
Glares at the headlines and bellows
“That Trump is just out looking for a fight!”

A bit later handsome white haired man is wheeled in
Wearing shorts, sporting a baseball hat
The same color as his smooth sun-tanned skin
He begins chatting with this nursemaid, a lovely lady,
Raven hair, pulled back in a neat tail
Reminding him, teasing him gently, about his service
Joking, “That was the First World War?”

He laughs, says “No, they are all gone now.”
His story unfolds in their chatter
18 years old sent off to Belgium, then Germany, on the front line
Defeat soon follows
A visit, 100 miles from Berlin, the Camp
The concentration camp, bodies piled up
“You don’t know what I’ve seen.”
His voice hushes, an audible tremble, unveiling a dark secret,
“There piles of bodies, and living skeletons, women, little children, shriveled men.”
He hung his head, all were quiet . . .

The nurse asks if he misses New York
He tells her tales of civilian life, a policeman
On the horse patrol in Manhattan
He takes his vacations in February
With his ski-loving wife, to Stowe
now his retirement home

Another man is wheeled in,
He is smaller than the tanned veteran
His skin marble white, as are his polo shirt
His shorts, ironed air-force blue
His legs linen white, almost the color of
His white sporty shoes
his daughter says
He too was in the Great War, in the Pacific
Flying in scientists to assess the effects
biological, and chemical, the bounty
Of flattened Hiroshima
But he is silent, wearing dark eyeglasses
 as she describes his life
ascertaining that both solders
are 91, both Leo
Born in August

The man with the patch, we find is 92
A veteran of Korea, the blonde daughter tells us
“And that’s where is is all going to start again,
That crazy war.  Daddy, your ready to go back?” She brays
 the room, again
She slides in front of the two in wheelchairs
 perches on a bench
Directly between the two, says to the tanned tall man
“did you fight Hitler’s soldiers?”
Incredulity and challenge in her voice

oblivious to the stories he’s told
obscured from her ears
Tho’ she’d been sitting on the side
Much nearer than I, across the room

Listening as if to a play on stage
He repeated his tale, “18, Belgium, Berlin . . . concentration camps.”
“Did you know Hitler was Jewish?” she belts out accusingly
“I heard that too.” The nurse confirms.
A med tech comes, calls the name of the Horse soldier
He is rolled out, down the hall
Moments later, another calls the Korean one-eyed vet
Daughter commandeers steering him, by arm, down the hall

The silent Airman, perks up, laughs
Announces to the room, talking to himself
“It was beginning to sound like the barroom at the VFW.”

Months earlier
In the same room
I listened to two other vets
 from the conscripted  war of my era
the one on the right, dressed in sporty clothes
bearing the sunshine health of one who has
spent hours on the green
taking the lead in the conversation
he ascertains their brotherhood in
 the Tet offensive
The other vet, two seats away
After initial contact
 kept his head down
As if studying the floor
Anything below the level of eyes
He wears well-worn clothes, like him
Deprived of sleep, wakeful, worrisome
His skin colored by closed doors
From florescent overheads, and dim barrooms

The successful man, begins his tale
A radar tech, enclosed upon an isle
Identifying, directing the bombing mission
upon enemy lines
and incoming from over there
his fear the natives on the island would
his fortification find

the other man, looks up briefly
and says “I know I was on the line,
on the river, soaked in sweat and mud
 bombs raining down on us.”
In his voice gravel, the terror still there
We could feel it in the room
The mud, the green explosive land
The water soaking, the smell of Sulphur and of blood
Gritted in his voice
He cast his eyes back down and listened
The enclosed soldier
Went on, defining danger from afar
In the living room of war
But having heard the combat voice
The visions burst our ears
In this room we know
This embattled soldier
Relives combat daemons each day
Hell is Manmade here on earth
A heroic death the godly lie
of happy-ever-after daze
the plot the master weaves
it is he who has the power upon this earth
his name in history to  lie


The warrior who has been in battle knows where Jesus lies: there ain’t no land of glory.