Monday, June 21, 2010

Once Upon my Feet: Returning from War (3rd of 3 poems)

Once Upon my Feet

Our daughters sketched tango dancers
With red and black crayons.
At the early milonga they'd draw.
I always promised them both a dance,
Yet they would cut-in all the same.
"Daddy is it my turn now?"

The little one danced upon my feet.
But at any pause, she'd show her strength.
She'd clean her shoes on my pants,
And gancho with a smile.

Her older sister had grown into her own style.
She liked the sweep of her feet with mine.
"Daddy, barrida!" was her whispered cue.
And I obliged with a sweep or two.

They're gone now, and a man answers their phone.
My wife, just another not waiting for her soldier's return.
I dreamed of six arms holding me near the plane.
War was easier than watching other families embrace
And then returning to this empty place.

The tangueras who know me, know why
I need their embrace;
Why I hold their hands as I do,
Watching as theirs settles in mine.
They know my hurt and how their
Walking-embrace at times is my only solace.

Afterword: This is the last of three poems that I dedicated to veterans of combat.
  • The first was a single man with PTSD.
  • The second, a female soldier devastated by sexual assault of a battle comrade, whom she thought she could trust.
  • And finally, this poem, a story of parental alienation.
I have sons, not daughters.  This is fiction but all too real.  People who know me and have read all three poems have noticed that these poems are not my usual style.  They are poems with less of a sense of hope and light than usual.  But the light comes from the community where the power of a human embrace has power to heal and make God's touch known.

Perhaps these poems are dark. War is dark.  The nightmares and the two to four hours of sleep that combat vets often get make for a dark life. 
I do have hope and see wonderful changes, but the tides of oil-soaked souls keep coming up on my shores. I love my work, and I am NOT burned out from this work. I am invigorated by it. But do you know how tragic this is to have a nation at war; yet, too few know the real price?  The malls are full of shoppers, even as we are at war and complain about having the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

I wish that our nation was as concerned and distressed over all of the oil covered souls washing ashore as much as the environmental devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.


  1. This is another beautiful post - and I've admired that video for some time. It's very sweet.

    I come from a family of veterans, men and women, who are dismayed that we have remained a country at war for so long, and that we have become so very desensitized to it - and to the consequences.

    With my family and my friends, I've seen many sides to this kind of story. The one you told above - but also the wife who finds a stranger has returned to her. No one can go to war and come back unchanged - and it's neither person's fault. Sometimes they can work through the differences and find each other again. Sometimes they can't. Marriages are frequently the casualties of war - not casualties of cold hearts.

  2. You are so very eloquent, Mark. And you bring such a unique perspective to our dance.

  3. Mari y Johanna, gracias por tus comentarios. Some how these poems took a lot out of me. I find such vigor and energy in my work with combat vets. I guess it is all in seeing solutions and find hope, and these poems are just the start of trying to find it. I guess I avoided sounding too positive about grave problems. There are wonderful resolutions -- I just want you to know. --Mark


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