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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reason to believe

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BECOMING MILTON
by Coleman Barks

Milton, the airport driver, retired now
from trucking, who ferried me
from the Greenville-Spartanburg airport
to Athens last Sunday midnight to 2:30 A.M.,
tells me about his son, Tom, just back
from the Gulf war. "He's at Fort Stewart
with the 102nd Mechanized, the first tank unit
over the line, not a shot fired at them.
His job was to check the Iraqi tanks
that the airstrikes hit, hundreds of them.
The boy had never even come up on a car accident
here at home, twenty-four years old. Can you
imagine what he lifted the lid to find?
Three helmets with heads in them staring
from the floor, and that's just one tank.
He has screaming flashbacks, can't talk about it
anymore. I just told him to be strong
and put it out of his mind. With time,
if you stay strong, those things'll go away.
Or they'd find a bunker, one of those holes
they hid in, and yell something in American,
and wait a minute, and then roll grenades in
and check it and find nineteen freshly killed guys,
some sixty, some fourteen, real thin.
They were just too scared to move.
He feels pretty bad about it, truthfully,
all this yellow ribbon celebrating.
It wasn't a war really. I mean, he says
it was just piles and piles of their bodies.
Some of his friends got sick, started vomiting,
and had to be walked back to the rear.
Looks like to me it could have been worked
some other way. My boy came through OK,
but he won't go back, I'll tell you that.
He's getting out as soon as he can.
First chance comes, he'll be in Greenville
selling cars, or fixing them. He's good at both.
Pretty good carpenter too, you know how I know?
He'll tear the whole thing out if it's not right
and start over. There's some that'll look
at a board that's not flush and say shit,
nail it, but he can't do that, Tom."


Listen to Springsteen sing Reason to Believe:


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50 comments:

Susan said...

That's powerful, Ruthie. Just a couple of minutes ago, I posted a link to the photo blog on FB and my verification words were "paroled war". Is that eerie, or what?

Loring Wirbel said...

wow

C.M. Jackson said...

heartbreaking...powerful and a reminder that we are very lucky to be living here while our soldiers are over there...thanks Ruth!

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, I saw Bill Maher interviewed and he said, which i totally agree with, "We need to get patriotic about something other than war".

My youngest son wanted to join the Marines, my husband and I were so opposed, and thankfully he listened. Bless the troops what a sacrifice,but we are pacifists. My sister often says America is anti-intellectual. Sad but true.

kanmuri said...

So sad, and so true. No one should have to see such things.

California Girl said...

Where did you find this, Ruth? I think I'll reprint and email to my friends. I still email tho less and less now with all the blogging. Succinct and sad.

Kamana said...

beautiful. and an amazing photo to go with the powerful words.

Stacie said...

What a slice of the reality so many of our young men have had to endure...and powerfully written.

Oliag said...

So sad...it feels so real...I felt heartbroken for that young man...he may repair cars but will he ever be repaired himself? This reminds me of the many young Vietnam Vets I knew long ago...and Bruce's voice says it all

You are in a blue mood today Ruth!

my15minutes said...

I live 5 minutes from the Greenville Spartanburg airport, and my son is a Marine, just returned from Afghanistan. He had to watch a fellow Marine have all his limbs amputated on the tarmac, with no anesthesia, and then die. And that's just the event he has told me about... I am sure there are others he keeps to himself. He has to go back there again in September.
I hope if I buy a car, or need one fixed, Tom will do it for me.

♥ Kathy said...

That is so inspiring!

Deslilas said...

A bunch of lonesome and very quarrelsome heroes were smoking out along the open road; the night was very dark and thick between them...
Leonard Cohen

Bella Rum said...

I hope Tom's demons will do a single file into a cage and remain subdued for the rest of his life. Such things should never be seen by anyone and yet, never forgotten once seen. You shared this beautifully, Ruth.

Good luck to you, Tom, and a good and long life filled with grandchildren who never have to know your war stories.

Sidney said...

Strong... heartbreaking... why wars? We all live in the same world...

Dee Dee said...

Thank you Ruthie, and thank you from Ben too. On one of the many trips home from deployment Ben hitched a ride home on a currier filled with fallen soldiers. When he got home stateside no media was there to greet the fallen men and women. A few weeks ago we were able to go to a book signing of Greg Mortenson. He is the author of Three cups of Tea. Greg signed an appreciation on one of his newer book to Ben. He called us and said it was one of the most meaningful acknowledgement of his services in the Middle East and I know so is this post...I will continue to pray for peace and protection for all of us and now for Tom.

ds said...

Powerful, powerful stuff, Ruth. Thank you.

Snappy Di said...

You would think that as old as this world is and as many wars as this earth has seen that men would have finally seen fit to start them anymore.

Obviously they will never learn. They have no interest in learning lessons from the past.

freefalling said...

We are such odd creatures.

deb said...

Ruth,
I don't understand how there can be a normal for the Toms of our world.
It just shouldn't be.

gemma said...

An experience of war can effect generations even after the war is over.

Nancy said...

This is the reality, isn't it? Not the flag waving, not the politicians pontificating, but the reality of what is really going on in a war that was forced on the American people by a president and his merry band of chicken hawks. May God have mercy on their souls.

Ruth said...

Susie, that is eerie synchronicity.

Ruth said...

Loring, what's wrong with us?

Ruth said...

Hi, C.M., I often feel grateful that I didn't have to send a child into this. But many do, many do.

Ruth said...

Cathy, that's a great statement Bill Maher said. And your sister too. It's getting worse - or else just more apparent - the rabid fears out there that are driving people in their daily lives, their world views.

Your vibrant art is a salve through these dark times.

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, the natural tragedies of life are difficult enough. How can we live with these man-made ones?

Ruth said...

Hi, California Girl, as I told you in my email response, I got this in the poetry anthology Robert Bly put together, titled Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. I was using it as a mousepad, and for some reason decided to open it at my bookmark. When I read it on the page, I knew I had to post it.

Ruth said...

Hi, Kamana, I'm glad you said beautiful. Even grief can be beautiful, and the art that represents it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Stacie, yes, Barks is best known to me via his Rumi translations, but he is a poet in his own right.

What you wrote today about unplugging is powerfully good too. But I imagine our men and women in the service are mightily grateful for their cyber connections to loved ones.

Ruth said...

Oh, sweet Oliag, how sad that we have been through too many wars. One war is too many. That we should have memories of another one!

You know, I wasn't blue when I posted this. As I mentioned in another comment, to California Girl, I happened to open my mousepad-book, Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart where I'd left off who knows how many months ago, and when I read this, there was no doubt about posting it. I just felt it.

Ruth said...

Beth @ my15minutes, my god. Your son's story brought tears. The pain and suffering there is, that I know nothing of, and those who've experienced wish they didn't, is not to be fathomed.

Bless your son, bless Tom, bless you.

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, I agree. People's stories are what make life worth living.

Ruth said...

Daniel, . . . each man beneath his ordinary load.

Ruth said...

Bella, Don has relatives who fought in WWII. One uncle has never spoken about his experiences as a bombadier. As horrific as that war was, those soldiers came home with, and to, glory. To layer on the horrors of war the apparent disinterest, or ingratitude of the populace, it must be doubly hard.

Ruth said...

Yes, Sid, wars are an anachronism. We are one.

Ruth said...

Dee Dee, my precious sister, what you wrote breaks me, what a mixed up world. I'm grateful to Ben, to all those who have given their time and efforts, and suffering and pain. I'm grateful to Greg for thanking Ben that way. I'm grateful to Tom, and to Coleman Barks, and to all the Life and Love that exists, in spite of the hate and killing.

I miss Ben, I haven't seen him in so long, couldn't hug him when he got home from Iraq.

I love you.

Ruth said...

DS, a few words can shorten the time to express what is inexpressible.

Ruth said...

Di, the locked up mess we are in seems hopeless. But friends like Loring keep pounding the pavement around the world to disarm those crazy men, especially here in the land of the brave (drone missiles aren't brave). Keep glowing your radiance, it makes a difference.

Ruth said...

Letty, agreed.

And we keep pulling through. Like you and Vince.

Ruth said...

Deb, yes. What is normal? I don't think there is something like that any more, unless it's buried in us, that thing we're all looking for, which is Peace, I guess.

Peace, Deb.

Ruth said...

Gemma, yes. What worries me a lot is how convoluted all the agreements, treaties and outcomes are, and how they affect the decades that follow. We are so entangled, even Mr. Obama, for whom I voted and hoped, has been sucked into it. Well, I did know he would increase the Afghan participation before I voted. It was the one thing I ached about in that vote.

Ruth said...

I know, Nancy. But even Mr. Obama has been sucked in, they all are eventually. I agree that Mr. Bush and his cronies made despicable choices. But make no mistake, the power machine marches on, and it's bi-partisan. Oh I hate it.

my15minutes said...

Thanks, Ruth.

Jeanie said...

This is an absolutely incredible look at war -- so beautifully told. Thank you.

Vagabonde said...

That there is pretty heavy stuff as they say here. The sentence “ With time, if you stay strong those things’ll go away” I think it depends what you have been through. I don’t think “those things” my father saw and experienced during WW2 ever went away. And on a nicer note, the cloud picture is lovely. Like your great nephew Nicholas would say “they are puffy cumulus.”

Terresa said...

Holy Poem. I have chills, serious chills from it.

And I used to think war was somehow OK, rationalize it, you know?...

PS: I have a poetry contest going on over at my blog this week, in case you might be interested.

Ruth said...

You're welcome, Beth.

Ruth said...

Yes, Jeanie, it isn't easy to write a poem-story like that, with everything it needs in just a few lines.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, yes, that line of Milton's caught me that way too, they don't necessarily go away. Some wounds never heal, some images never fade.

Thank you for your comment on the photo. I am jealous that you have seen Nicholas, he will have grown so much by the time I see him. It was great to see his mom though, and it sounds as though you had a lovely time with Ginnie.

Ruth said...

Terresa, I think I might have tried to rationalize war for a minute once too.

Thanks for telling me about the contest!