Wednesday Poem


“What’s a patriot, Dad?
Hey, Dad! ‘Earth to Dad—
Earth to Dad!’
Get your nose out of
the newspaper!
Help me with my homework!
What’s a patriot, Dad?”

“Well, I guess, a person
who loves the land.
Although some people act as if
a patriot’s a man
who hates another land.”

“Hey, Dad! Don’t
give me  a lecture—
all I need’s
a word! Just a word!
What’s a veteran, Dad?
Hey, Dad! DAD!”

“A veteran’s what your
father is—” his mother
chimed in, clear across the room.

“Oh, I got it:
somebody who’s always out
of work, home with us
kids— huh, Dad?
Is that what a veteran is?

“Yep—” Dad got out,
remembering suddenly
the time his youngest son
had stopped breathing
right there at the kitchen table
(with his oldest son screaming,
“Nicky’s dead! Nicky’s dead!”)
and the frantic fight
to find a sign of life,
while dialing the emergency number
for an ambulance.

“What’s war? Dad!
You know, Dad! War—war!
Dad! What the hell’s war?”

And old Dad blurted out,
still thinking of the desperate
battle one desperate night
to save the baby’s life:
“Ten minutes of terror,
after twenty years of anticipation,
and then twenty years of worrying
‘when’s it going to happen

by Jan Barry
Unaccustomed Mercy—
Soldier Poets of the Vietnam War
Texas Tech University Press