That last year of high school, I knew.
I had to register for the draft and I was reading Thoreau and Tolstoy.
I remember getting the form and wanting to register conscientious objector.
But I couldn’t. I labored over that card and took it personally,
oh, so very personally, to the home of the clerk
because I was late submitting it.
I went up to her door on the icy sidewalk between heaps of shoveled snow
and moon white lawn.
I was a young stag in his very first season before a shot has been fired
but somehow I could sense the hunters out there waiting for me.
I wanted to run but all I knew was home yet home was a very peculiar place.
Perhaps, it was the president with his head blown open in Texas
in a car just one year before.
Perhaps, it was the liberal revelation that every problem in fact had a name
and a corps of professionals to solve it.
Only it was much deeper than that.
One of my child of broken home friends asked,
“who would we possibly fight?”
I said, “if there wasn’t a real war to fight then we’d invent one.”
That got a sardonic laugh.
People were always telling me “why are you so cynical” then
when cynical was the unforgiveable sin.
But it was only my adolescent belief
born of repressed memory
and the genius of intuition
that could actually comprehend what was actually going on.
Somehow I knew, I knew, I knew
And yet if I’d heard of Vietnam it was only a fleeting image
on the morning T.V. of the Today Show
far away and distant, another assassination in a foreign land
where tiny colored skin people weren’t able to manage their own affairs
and mysteriously needed our help sorting out what freedom really is.
Perhaps, it was all those Victories at Sea I watched so religiously in the 50’s
and all those burning freighters perishing in the icy North Atlantic
or the canopies of black flack flowering around Japanese Zeros
to the tune of Richard Roger’s original score.
It was as if our fathers just couldn’t not give us all the opportunities they’d had.
Whatever it was, I knew with a nostalgic wave of sorrow that made me almost nauseous
with a close suffocating sense that I was powerless, helpless as a baby in my just grown
that had despite anything I had done or could do sprouted these long arms and legs
and hair on and under arms and groin and just starting to fleck my chest.
I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t want it happen.
But the war had a life of its own and swaddled in it, bound by it
I could only wait for it to pick me up and carry me away.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.
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