He eyed me over the rim of his glass, and said,
“Boy, let me tell you of the battles I’ve seen;
I’ve fought the war in Korea, served in Vietnam.
If only you knew of all the places I have been.
You’re current trials and troubles are petty,
Of true trauma and suffering,you’re nowhere near.
So sit the fuck down sonny, pour me another drink.”
He said as he drained the final dregs of his beer.
He didn’t notice that my tightly clenched hands
Were drumming an urgent rhythm against my thighs;
I thought he’d understand, being a soldier like me.
I thought he wouldn’t have those judgmental eyes.
“Sir,” I replied tersely, fingers flying faster,
“My problems might pale before the horrors you saw,
But they’re still monumental to me. Can’t you see?
The travails we suffer are just luck of the draw.”
Hands moved to the table, drumming a syncopated beat.
“Who can measure human desperation with certainty?
Our circumstances, our situations are different,
Different, you and I, in mind and personality.
You might have fought long in Korea and Vietnam,
I have faced, my share of gruesome battles too.
You may have served your country for far longer,
But, that’s exactly it. I’m scared of becoming you.”
Mouth twisted in disapproval, eyes flashing, he spoke,
“Now look here boy, you’d better show some respect,
What’s the point of chewing my ear off for an hour
If the only piece of advice I give, you rudely reject?”
“It took you twenty years of fighting,” I replied,
“Before you finally realised it was slowly killing you.
Well, it’s killing me; I simply realised it sooner.
If anything it makes me smarter, more prudent too.
I’m telling you not to trivialise, not to call me weak.
The army took from you twenty years, there’s no doubt.
It gave you a glass eye and poor prosthetic limbs.
I can see that in my future, and dammit, I want out.
Your wife and kids could only stand silently supporting,
While you tore up paddy fields, waded marshes of reeds.
My family has suffered enough; I cannot be that selfish,
To indulge in this violent fantasy, satisfy my own needs.
I came here to ask you, what the best way was to quit;
This fruitless exercise has only served to upset me.
But I shall remember my manners and buy you that drink.”
I did, then tipped my cap to him and thanked him politely.
Winding my scarf around my neck, I thought of it as noose;
Musing of freedom that was beyond reach, spirits sinking lower.
I shoved my hands in my pocket, turned my collar to the cold
And walked out of that bar, hoping it would all soon be over.
An explanation of this poem can be found at https://kazenomachihe.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/soldiering-on-explained/