No, I will never know
what you saw or what you felt,
thrust into the maw of Eternity,
watching the mortars nightly
greedily making their rounds,
hearing the soft damp hiss
of men’s souls like helium escaping
their collapsing torn bodies,
or lying alone, feeling the great roar
of your own heart.
But I know:
there is a bitter knowledge
of death I have not achieved.
Thus in thankful ignorance,
and especially for my son
and for all who benefit so easily
at so unthinkable a price,
I thank you.
~Michael Burch “Privilege”
(for my father on Memorial Day)
It was only a part of what we knew about you-
serving three long years in the South Pacific,
spoken of obliquely
only if asked about,
but never really answered.
We knew you were a Marine battalion leader,
knew you spent too many nights without sleep,
unsure if you’d see the dawn
only to dread
what the next day would bring.
We knew you lost friends
and your innocence;
found unaccustomed strength
inside a mama’s boy
who once cried too easily and later almost never.
Somehow life had prepared you for this:
pulling your daddy out of bars when you were ten
watching him beat your mama
until finally getting big enough
to stand in the way.
Then Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian beaches
to be restored and renewed
as vacation resorts.
We let you go without knowing
your full story–
even Mom didn’t ask.
You could not share the depth
of horror and fear you felt.
It was not shame that kept you silent;
simply no need to revisit
the pain of remembrance.
It was done, finished, you had done your duty.
So as we again set flowers and flag
on your grave,
reunited with Mom after years apart,
I regret so many questions unasked
of a sacrifice beyond imagining,
you having paid an unthinkable price.
Sleep well, Dad,
with Mom now by your side.
I rejoice you finally wakened
to a renewed dawn.
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