Matthew J. Pesce

WE’RE ALMOST HOME

we’re not dead.
but we’re quiet.
we’re not bragging about
The BIG One.
We’re not that proud.

and everyone wants to know
What Was It Like.
being in a war you
can’t be proud of.
and are you o.k.

even my
mother was
glad I came home, but.
but.
I wanted her to be proud.

twenty-five years ago I
am your brother.
today I am your brother
but we don’t speak.
we define each other.

less than a hundred
people went to the
desert to die.
and we get to say, WE’RE HERE.
we’re here. but some heard.

we’re not quite
silent
anymore.
we’ve learned to growl
with our eyes.

but we’re not quite
home.
not in their eyes and
not in ours because
it’s not in theirs.

we’re not alone.
Korea was a draw.
Dom Rep was a waste.
most of them are nuts or
they’ve blended.

and some of us look like
yuppies –
some of us hate yuppies-
and some of us
dropped out.

I can’t tell which is
better.
but all of us don’t
look happy
almost home.

Calley gave us his
name.
BRANDED!
some are guilty and
some are not.

all of us were
there.
we let war happen.
they weren’t as
good as us.

not as human, our enemy.
plastic people who
couldn’t be trusted.
who stepped off our
compounds

and sold us their
wives.
we saw no dignity
in them –
in their mountain people –

in their whores –
in their rice pickers –
in their serpents and
leaches –
no dignity.

they murdered our brothers.
their brothers –
a piece of
each of us –
every time.

please let me go home.
home was
every prayer.
dear mom I
want to go.

twenty-five years ago
we died.
but we’re not dead.
yesterday and tomorrow we
cried for each other.

almost home!
home –
a place I recognize.
the smell of
familiar cooking.

HOME!
where our friends turned their
heads down from us.
they came with answers to
hear stories.

when was this ever
home?
what was this place before
it was a haven for
misfits?

where did the
feelings go?
who are these
people
sharing my space?

what did I do?
why am I
somehow
RESPONSIBLE
for their fears?

nothing waited.
nobody waited.
everybody said it but.
but.
nobody did it.

not even us.
we all
devoured ourselves like
cold beer and
green smoke.

everything we
remembered
became a
lie in their
nightmare.

you were part of it.
so was I.
together we
let ourselves
down.

like soldiers being
mortared in the
dark.
everyone’s panic was the
only real panic.

dear God I
wanted to go home!
but it’s not there.
it isn’t
where it was.

everything is a
compromise.
not the
job I wanted.
not the money.

the dreams didn’t
haunt me
but they visited –
like my
mother’s cousins.

who needs this!
but we fought for this.
and we just don’t
know where
home is anymore.

everyone has an
answer
and
none of them
work for me.

not for the guys who
took off in used
fatigue jackets.
is there someplace to
call home?

others bought into the
compromise;
learned to
co-exist with yuppies
and stayed.

we also
stayed.
they showed up,
we showed up,
and we remain.

we were left.
for scrap.
for spare parts.
for lawn care and
vehicle maintenance.

we refused to go away.
it seemed like we
could get past it –
step over it –
refuse to be denied.

it wasn’t us who
said we were trash.
it was them.
we didn’t ask for this –
we didn’t encourage it.

our reputation!
pressed by condemnation of
accusation and
innuendo in
ink court.

but they were just
doing their jobs.
like the unaccountable
maggots in the
meat.

convicted by a
jury of
readership.
cancers hungry for a
carcass.

they made our
mothers ashamed.
our epitaph
carved on
recycled paper.

they still love us but.
but.
our fathers say
yes, well, what are we
supposed to do?

we suggest we could
build hospitals in our
inner cities next time instead
of dropping bombs on
rice farmers.

we didn’t make
your decisions.
we just molested some
jungles and
bled a little.

we got to
live your
psycho-drama and
we get to
live with that.

and you
get to live with us.
you can’t
hide your daughters from us.
we know who you are.

a self-inflicted wound.
we are the
disease you gave
yourself that
has no cure.

GUILTY!
it’s no longer an
ambiguous crime.
everyone knows
you did it.

you decided it was
too dirty for your
living room.
not worthy of your
children’s ears.

where is your
pride in us?
for us?
FOR US?
because we deserve it.

where is that
father’s touch, that
old warrior’s bar that
doesn’t look
down at us.

that college program
we couldn’t extend
time to finish,
even with
excellent scores.

you measured your
debt to us too
carefully.
not like a
gift of love.

we gave you our
parts, our
futures, our
blood, our
brothers. our brothers.

no, not
all of you.
some of you just
stood by and
let it happen.

we can’t come home.
we don’t know where it
is, we don’t know
how to find it, we
don’t really want to.

we’ve come to know
we don’t make the
rules and we
don’t make the
money.

somebody
who didn’t go to
Nam
got there
first.

we’re not
crying about it.
we’re simply
acknowledging the
score.

their parents understood
CANADA
and deferment,
and cowardice,
and hypocrisy.

no, we are not bitter
bitter bitter anymore.
we’re just bitter.
unimpressive bitter.
nothing more.

something about war.
it changed us.
we became ourselves,
we ripened
our own way.

that’s why we
never came home.
what we were.
we left that with our brothers in
the Nam.

boyhood grin.
sheepish eyes.
not any more!
GONE! like the
smiles of our sisters.

we can’t really
remember who those
people were.
those people
died.

we can
never come home.
and we are
here.
right here.

and some of our
living brothers
remained.
we make movies but we
don’t bring them home.

therein you
perpetuate your
tragedy…
we aren’t worth a
decent burial.

it’s just
the way it is.
the way it is.
it’s just
the way it is.

it just is.
and we should give up –
nobody would
blame us if we
give up.

we’ve been
tattooed by our
non-performance.
yuppies vs vets.
and they won.

we thought we had
something coming but
they gave at the
office and
we gave at the war.

we’re not losers.
we didn’t get our
turn at bat.
we missed our
chance to recover.

some of us
ran from it like
a child
avoiding a
strap.

some of us
short-circuited ourselves
every time
success
loomed near.

some of us found
comfortable corners.
they are the lucky
ones.
the rest ran away.

so many
dreams of home.
so many
places I tried to
call home –

a fresh start in a
new place with the
old baggage is only a
new stage for an
old performance.

it will
never be fair.
it would have been
nice if it
were.

we will never know
any more about it.
it sucked,
our war,
it sucks.

it sucked,
dying there.
it sucked,
not coming home.
it sucks.

some of me came
home.
some of us, some of
each of us.
impaired.

nothing ventured, nothing
gained didn’t
work for us.
opinions were already
opinions.

we never
accepted that.
we just got to
live it or
go quietly away.

but my brothers and I are
still here.
we’ve learned to
hide fairly well –
pretty quiet –

we brave ones have
bumper stickers.
the rest of you
don’t know where to
buy them.

some of us have
shown up now and then.
some watch it on
tv and some
avoid it.

some of us are
so ashamed we
cannot face each other.
we can’t even say
WELCOME HOME!

some of us have
defined our space so
carefully we
can find every
scrap of paper;

and some of us don’t
save paper.
we have decided we
have no rules.
no significant norms.

we have only one
universal characteristic.
we never came home.
and all of us are hungry.
and every one is alone.

Author’s Note: From One Vietnam Veteran to My Brothers