Published 10 years ago
With a face begrimed, an old man climbed from a tattered cardboard box
to a sight he knew - was an alley’s view, beneath the loading docks.
The morning light would end the fight he always had to face,
though just a dream, it always seemed so real it left a taste.
But 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.
On his flask was an image cast of one more fallen soul
with mussed up hair and a sullen stare, to survive - his only goal.
The bustling pace around the place was the sign it was time to leave,
or he might be thrown from the makeshift home, the place of his reprieve.
All his needs, his life’s proceeds would fit in one small bag,
some cherished things like a wedding ring and a tarnished metal tag.
A 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.
A crippled leg, but he wouldn’t beg, though his pride was hard to see
through the shirt he wore that the shrapnel tore from a mine in old Quang Tri.
He’d walk all day past the quaint cafes as they served their daily fare
and the folks that dined would pay no mind, they’d pretend he wasn’t there.
For 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.
The 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.
A warrior slain by a tortured brain from the sacrifice he made,
his only truce - a life reduced, his valor prone to fade.
After 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.
A silent town - the only sound was a little band that played
at the seedy bar where his Silver Star brought a little cash in trade.
The streetlights threw their mournful hue on the flickering neon light
of the old motel where the patrons dwell with the ladies of the night.
He 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.
He recalled the night that he left to fight in a war he couldn’t win,
to spend his days where the battles raged would kill ten thousand men.
Though he made it back physically intact, there were demons deep inside
that would take their toll on a troubled soul he would try so hard to hide.
He rarely slept, and sometimes wept from the images he held
of the battle scenes, civilians’ screams and his only brother felled.
He 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.
It 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.
When he had his fill of the evening chill, to the alley he’d return
to his tattered box underneath the docks - another day adjourned.
By candlelight, he sat upright and he opened up the bag,
and softly cried as he reached inside for the little metal tag.
It had a name that was much the same as the one he always wore,
a fallen lad with a common dad who was born a year before.
And as he wept, a promise kept was playing in his mind,
he’d board a plane with a kid’s remains in a box of a different kind.
His futile life was filled with strife and he wanted it to end,
or another night beheld a fight he knew he couldn’t win.
A desperate man with a simple plan he kept inside the bag,
not tag or ring, but another thing all wrapped in an oily rag.
That night he wrote a special note to the ones he left behind
and his final say was stashed away in an easy place to find.
At dawn’s first light, a dreadful sight and an end to years of pain,
a cardboard box beneath the docks found soaked in crimson stain.