face begrimed – an old man climbed
from a tattered cardboard box
to a sight he knew – an alley’s view
beneath the loading docks.
morning light would end the fight
he always had to face,
though just a dream, to him it seemed
so real it left a taste.
soon that taste would be replaced
with a little shot of rye –
some needed aid he took in trade
at a little bar close by.
reflection cast on his sacred flask
was another fallen soul
with mussed up hair and a sullen stare,
to survive – his only goal.
bustling pace around the place
was the sign he had to leave,
or he might be thrown from his makeshift home
and place of his reprieve.
meager needs and life’s proceeds
would fit in one small bag –
some cherished things like a wedding ring
and a tarnished metal tag.
nomad’s plight – he traveled light
and was always on the move
as he searched the street for food to eat
in a way most disapprove.
crippled leg, but he wouldn’t beg –
though his pride was hard to see
through the shirt he wore that shrapnel tore
from a mine in old Quang Tri.
walk each day past a quaint cafe
as they served their daily fare
and the folks that dined would pay no mind –
they’d pretend he wasn’t there.
survival’s sake – his lunch he’d take
from the dumpster in the rear
if his search revealed a discarded meal
or a warm, half-empty beer.
café staff would only laugh
as he rummaged through the cans,
they couldn’t see what he used to be
with a weapon in his hands.
warrior slain by a tortured brain
from the sacrifice he made,
his only truce – a life reduced
and a valor prone to fade.
dark, at the city park,
when the cops had left their beat,
he’d sit alone on a bench of stone
and survey the empty street.
silent town where the only sound
was a little band that played
at the dingy bar where his Silver Star
brought a little cash in trade.
streetlights threw their mournful hue
on the flickering neon light
of the old motel where the patrons dwell
with the ladies of the night.
clinched his fists as he reminisced
of a place so long ago,
of a family life, a loving wife
and a child he didn’t know.
recalled the night he left to fight
in a war he couldn’t win,
to spend his days where the battles raged
would kill ten thousand men.
he made it back, for the most – intact,
some demons deep inside
would take their toll on a troubled soul
he would try so hard to hide.
rarely slept, and he sometimes wept
from images he held
of battle scenes, civilians’ screams
and his only brother – felled.
tried to cope, there was just no hope –
when all was said and done,
there came the day that he’d walk away
from his wife and only son.
had been so long since things went wrong –
now it all seemed so surreal
that a man so brave could be a slave
to the scars that wouldn’t heal.
he had his fill of the evening chill,
to the alley he’d return
to his tattered box beneath the docks –
another day adjourned.
candlelight, he sat upright
and he opened up the bag,
then softly cried as he reached inside
for the little metal tag.
touched the name that was much the same
as the one he always wore,
a fallen lad with a common dad –
born just a year before.
as he wept, a promise kept
was playing in his mind,
when he shared a plane with a kid’s remains
in a box of a different kind.
futile life was filled with strife
that he thought would never end
and another night beheld a fight
that he knew he couldn’t win.
desperate man with a simple plan
he kept inside the bag,
not tag or ring – but another thing
all wrapped in an oily rag.
night he wrote a special note
to the ones he’d leave behind
and his final say was stashed away
in an easy place to find.
and an end to years of pain,
a cardboard box beneath the docks
found soaked in crimson stain.