Jessica Avery

WHAT DID WE DO?

Alone, he sits in the cold Nebraska wind,
no coat to protect him, the shoes on his feet too small.
His thin, worn clothes hang on his small frame,
and his face is covered in the dust and grime of the street.
Looking at him, people walk away, their faces a grimace
of hate and disgust, their eyes showing nothing but distaste
and a slight contempt at having to see this man, having to deal
with a homeless person yet again.

They don’t see the metals this man keeps in those dirty pockets.
They don’t see the dog tags still hanging around his neck,
and they don’t see the pictures of those he lost still tucked in his
otherwise empty wallet, hidden from the world which hates him.
Hungry and cold, he sits on that bench, reflecting on his life.
He can remember the faces so clearly, the voices
still echo in his thoughts, as do the gunshots in the night.
He can still feel their heartbeats fading.
As he walks these wintry streets, hoping for one kind soul,
he can remember the hate, the screams of contempt
as he got off the plane, can remember the feeling of spit
raining down upon him, as he came back from that hell into a new one.
He sees a family Christmas shopping and remembers his own family,
gone not long after his return, his wife unable to handle his silence,
his children unable to connect this dad with the one who left for Vietnam,
his friends unable to see what he couldn’t describe.
He passes a Santa Clause on the corner, the sound of the bell
reminding him of Christmas’s past, and he checks his pockets.
Metals, lint, and a crumpled dollar bill are pulled out slowly.
Without a thought, he slips his last bill silently into the cup,
and walks away quickly, aware of the hateful stares.

He screams his own name in the dead of this night, just to hear a voice
call out for him and only him, and his tired legs
fall out from under his broken body.
His stomach is so cramped, all he can do is lay on that dirty sidewalk,
ashamed and lonelier than any human can withstand.
Clutching his thin clothes around him, he cries silently:
No voice left to speak, no strength left to walk,
and no heart left to live, his mind an endless night of gunfire.
A woman passes by, saying in contempt “Get a job”.
He just hangs his head, the last of his dignity broken,
the last of his dreams stolen long ago by a war that wasn’t his,
and by a country he and his brothers gave their lives for.
Blocked from the wind for a moment, he rests, wondering:
What did I do?