It’s All One Thing #4: 1965

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
                                                                                                                                                                   body
               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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