Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iraq 5 - Poems from a Warrior Father for His Warrior Son

A few days ago, my friend, Dr. Scott Snook of the Harvard Business School faculty, shared with me some remarkable poems. Despite my love for literature and for reading, I must confess that I do not read much poetry. But these poems reached out and grabbed me by the throat and by the heart. They are remarkable. They are clearly written by a warrior/poet – the kind we do not often find today.

These five poems were penned by Dr. Joseph T. Cox, former United States Military Academy English professor. Dr. Cox was an Army Colonel who served in Vietnam. He has been a mentor to Dr. Snook. He currently serves as Head Master at The Haverford School in Pennsylvania. This warrior, and published poet, is a true Renaissance Man.

His collection of poems, “Garden’s Close” is available on line. I just ordered a copy.

With the kind permission of Dr. Cox, I am pleased to share this set of poems:

Iraq 5

Fathers and Sons

for 1LT Matthew D. Cox

My boy lives a half a world away, a man

leading other men, but he will always be my boy.

I see curly blond hair and sky-blue eyes

sparkle, a face filled with smile as he

plucks a big bass from a Tennessee pond.

I see the tense stare, the elbow held high,

as he hangs in on first curve balls of Babe Ruth.

I see the sweetness of a face in the glow of midsummer

fireworks, and long eyelashes on sleeping lids

as I carry him to bed and lay him next to Boo.

I am proud that he is a man leading men

and miss him because he is so far away,

but what I miss most is the little boy who

will always and never again be my little boy.

First Snow Fort Wayne

Under the wing, Fort Wayne, Indiana, white with first snow,
thirty minutes left to go. Thirty years of memories including
Larry, one of my soldiers in Vietnam, a father at fourteen,
illiterate, hard working, always there to please.
Oh how he missed his dark, cold, prairie city
how he bragged of bowling strikes, his beautiful
wife, and the high life in Fort Wayne.
Today my son leads similar boys
who kill illiterate boys in shattered
desert towns, angry boys armed with resentment
of having been under too many heels
for too long a time. The pilot tells us
its right around freezing at O’Hare
and the winds are light. On the other side
of the world, my son is thankful for cool nights
and his soldiers’ ability to fight in the dark,
but when he tries to sleep, his two friends
lost to suicide bombers crowd his cot.
Larry, too, has trouble sleeping and lingers
too long in the bowling alley where he works
after locking up. The snow in Fort Wayne
is early this year and heating oil at an all-time high.
He thinks of his son who drives a truck on roads
where angry boys carefully wire their gift of death.


Walking with my son on the sandy hook, we stare at a full moon
that he finds hard to believe polishes the rough desert he just left.
We gaze across at the lights of a great city and the dark spaces.
The spirit of atrocity fades in soft rhythms of Jersey beach.

The more we talk, the more we realize we are cowards, retreating
into a common bond of camaraderie, medicating ourselves with myths
of old soldiers. On his left wrist he wears his best friend’s name,
tangible reminder of a man disintegrated by a suicide bomber.

In this sweet air, it is hard to recall the daily dragon’s breath
that claimed a family’s only son. My son has difficulty talking.
He made this pilgrimage to explain love in a time of fear,
but it is easier to trade clich├ęs and swap sanitized sound bites.

On the drive back, my son mentally walks a soldier’s stations of the cross:
go to war, glimpse the darkness in your soul, try to find your way home.
Haunted by survivor guilt, he will learn that even those who lived are lost.
After war the homes we try to come home to are no more.

Second Tour

The night before Thanksgiving
my son told me he’s going back to Iraq,
again. The first cost him his two best friends
and his CO’s legs. He doesn’t talk about it much.
This time he goes to Fort Riley
for two or three months first.
I told him that after that shit hole,
Iraq might even look good.

His grandfather went to Germany,
got shot twice, came back an angry,
sullen man, still picking shrapnel out of his legs
as he fought the middle-aged battle of the bulge.
I had my time in Vietnam, never shot,
but came back different, or so my
first wife told me before she left.

Every soldier’s war is unique, every minute,
every step, every square foot, even for those
in the same country at the very same time.
My only wish is that my son will find peace,
but I honestly don’t know how to tell him that,
and when I try, it sounds like just one more lie.

Post Stress

For years after the war
I had those dreams.
You know the ones:
trapped in the burning helicopter,
watching the bullet as it flew
toward that space between your eyes,
feeling the impact of jagged steel
tear through your lower torso.
We all had those dreams,
the ones in which you didn’t wake up
before the terrible moment
before you found yourself dying,
again and again.

I knew I was better when I
started waking up before I died.
Recently, at the start of each war,
those who died would visit my dreams
and ask, “Why didn’t you die?”
I thought I was lucky,
but it wasn’t until my son was lost
that they could hear my answer,
and now I dream I am dead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These poems explain much about JTC. He's a hard man - brooding, difficult and tough to please. His criticisms can leave you feeling left for dead (professionally speaking).