World War I in an American Legion cap,
short stiff steps behind a four-legged cane
through tenderloin trenches
& into the R & R of low cost housing. . .
paid monthly by the social security
of 9.2 howitzer memories & muggings
& the gab of other old scars & wrinkles,
reinforcing a world-view: hell is growing
old in American cities.
We were great then;
broke isolation for the ideal & volunteered
to run like crazy
through the shrapnel & charcoal whore
we made of the old world
spitting bullets & the sperm of tough talk
bottled in melting pot frustration
& the stench of ghetto walk-ups.
We were all whores then;
but whores with a dream
& that was better than being. . .peasants!
World War I shuffles the dirt between soul & concrete;
he must catch up with the pace he sets for himself
in this transvestite night of neon necromania
where “danger” jumps like a stairway junkie
from the thresholds of shadow
dedicated to the unknown soldier & other prisoners of war.
He pushes on. . .
to where the porno palace marquee radiates safety;
he waits at the red light with the laughter of a corner hooker
while steel horses strafe the intersection with obnoxious odors
& the flash of ear-splitting sirens.
We were heroes then, with a job to do.
All around, there is nothing but devotion to purpose:
The gray-skinned panhandlers wrapped in blankets & lice
scrounging through trash cans for their lunch. . .
The holes in the ground. . .
The blood-stained mud below the scream of bullets. . .
The senseless bodies. . .
& the bodies writhing with wounds
& dismemberment. . .
The ruddy faced drunk
passed out & cursing on apartment house steps. . .
The screaming three-time loser, hands cuffed behind him,
pushed head-first into the powder blue
police services car. . .
Crawl over these monuments of manhood.
Feel the rub of flesh & khaki & blood & Earth & horror & bone
& self-hatred. . .
Waiting. . .
waiting & waiting for nightfall, for help from the trenches. . .
Caught in the no-man’s land
between the button & the breaking-point
in the search & destroy mindset of father knows best:
fact finding/fault finding/perfect binding
& the sweet perversity of how much can you take.
The vet in pointed cap & cement shoes
pushes his purple heart
through the shellshock of general headquarters,
Home of the Brave,
till he again reaches relative safety in the hut, two, three
of his room
where he can fall back on his bed,
look up at the ceiling
& think about the good old days. . .