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Tuesday, May 30, 2017


by Robert Lee Whitmire

B-52 Vietnam

Empty sentiment confounds me,
irritates me, angers me if truth
be told, causes me to see red
but pretend it’s not red.
is Memorial Day,
and I hear
‘Thank You for Your Service’,
empty words showering star-spangled
fireworks on endless rows of white
headstones marking graves
of fell-too-soon human beings.

Oh, say can you see the rockets' bright glare
As green and red tracers tattoo the air?

My ‘service’ was no service to anyone,
least of all the people for whom
I was supposed to be putting my life
at risk. I served hubris, avarice
and a white nation’s desire to beat
another nation of obdurate brown
people into bloody submission.

AKs, 16s, rip like shredding guitars as
Ribbons of cannon fire hurl from the stars

I was the lightning that set the house
on fire, that killed everyone inside,
then struck again and again
and again, killing  killing  killing.
I was a tool, an instrument, a useful
fool ‘serving’ people who shamelessly
drafted or coaxed me and mine to do
the unspeakable in service of the indefensible.

But you believe you are sincere and so you
thank me, and I say ‘You’re welcome’ even
though you are not welcome--but the alternative
is for me to explode in your face like one of those
‘Bouncing Betties’ Charlie used to salt
jungle paths. Or I might infect you like a
shit-tipped punji stick, or turn into a child
wired with C-4 running towards you while
I hide in the trees, finger on detonator.

And children of God entreat for their lives,
Himself in His Heaven is deaf to their cries. 

How does it serve you for me to kill
a child running to kill me and mine,
who is innocent of any crime yet must pay
for that innocence with its life?
How does it serve you for me to fly a B-52
over a landscape tens of thousands of feet
below, dropping stick after stick of
aerodynamic death, more bombs than
fell in all of the Second World War?
How does it serve you for me to kill
more than a million human beings
who did nothing  nothing  nothing
to deserve their fates?

Words, no matter how polite or currently
sincere, are not welcome from those who met
us half a century ago when we were young
and thought ‘finally, safe at home.’ Remember?
Did you spit? Curse? Call us baby killers?
Did you get on your draft-deferred high horse
and go sanctimonious all over our asses? Are
you one of those who now wants to send
more young people to fight and die and kill
more brown people because they won’t
see our truth?

Do not thank me for a service I did not render.

Moans of the dying fading slowly to dead:
Perpetual harmony of fire and of lead.

Robert Lee Whitmire is a Vietnam veteran, a husband, a socially progressive Unitarian, and a retired journalist, photographer, and social worker currently living in Maine and doting on his two small grandchildren.