Gary Jacobson

MINGLING WITH THE DEAD

I mingled with war’s dead in fields of combat today
Fallen dumb with pain in contentious battle’s fray
Visiting but for a moment, numbered among the dead
Tethered on a silver thread that back to “the world” led.

I see still through eyes, still vacant,
Riding on clouds above, caricatures of men by neighbors sent
Pale pall lays stark upon countenances that anguish cannot hide
From dissolute war’s hatreds that leave mouths gaping open wide.

Men around me laid crumpled, rumpled, distraught afore
Piled haphazardly one on another, red-stained fruits of war
Warriors’ vibrant mortality this war’s robbing
By the grim reaper beaten, no longer with life throbbing.

Soldiers changed by war to lifeless mannequins now
Torn pitiably, before that great abyss bow
Broken bodies frozen so still where they lay
Leaking souls, no more on tortured earth to stay.

Creation’s ripped from life by cruel death’s somber rejection
Products of war’s craft lie dead in final agitation
Gaping, screaming mouths, abject terror displayed
Tossed in fetal positions where devastating war laid arrayed.

The dead no longer hear life-giving reveille to them calling
Nevermore to answer its chilling cadence down spines shrilling
In demise fading, passing obscure in thin cold mist
Beclouded by mortal agony in frozen pain kissed.

Primal screams shriek a final death knell toll,
Over dying men no longer naïve nor gung-ho,
No honor but death coming to these veterans beatified
Nevermore smiles painted by death petrified.

Then I awoke! Arisen, I shake off death’s hoary beast
From that most cruel captor, once again released
Again escaped in memory… though I feel intimately its cost
Will I be so lucky tomorrow… or join the brotherhood lost?

1st Air Cavalry soldier under fire in a rice paddy, Vietnam
1st Air Cavalry soldier under fire in a rice paddy, Vietnam
(Photograph: Combat Photographer, Henri Huet)

Author’s Note: Reading now and again the words from you my brothers and sisters… I am touched… reminded of messages we bring and share. You shook my soul, and these words just now came tumbling out.

If this poem seems especially dark, remember that anniversaries of significance to Veterans often have great effect… and April 22, 2004 marked the 37th anniversary of the time I was wounded in RVN, beginning a period of 14 months in hospital.