'Tis the Cruelest Gift of All
I cried and screamed,
like the shrieking banshees of my forebears,
until they relented,
opening the casket
so I could touch my child
for the last time.
Becoming a soldier made her happy,
full to bursting with ideas and plans;
no more complaints about school deadheads.
Explaining that "Sure there were goofs,
there're goofs everywhere,
but making mistakes is how we improve,
'cause everyone is motivated."
She said it was like being on a team
or in a girl's club, only better,
since everyone was there for life,
helping to build skills
'til no more help was needed,
then passing the lessons learned along
to help others stay alive,
'cause the job is bigger than all of us.
She never knew how close I came to walking away,
away from everything, even myself.
I'd prayed her father through a war,
lost my uncle in another,
but I didn't have the strength to do it again,
didn't have the courage to trust her judgement.
"Too innocent", I said.
"Too young", I said.
"Too precious", I meant.
And she said "No more nagging about veggies,
got to keep the Green Machine
And she proclaimed that she was a soldier now,
so she could only use green eye shadow,
and olive drab toilet paper,
and camouflage sanitary napkins!
Her boot camp letter, green ink on tan paper,
mentioned her bruised breast
was turning red, white, and blue,
as the ultimate mark of patriotism!
Her dad gave her his old scarred Randall knife,
and you'd have thought he lassoed the moon!
She kept it locked away in the unit safe,
then returned it when her own Model One arrived,
honored to be the third generation so armed.
But he was dying, even then, from his war,
although we didn't know it at the time,
so he never heard the news,
the formal regret
reporting the loss of a slight trooper
mortally wounded by an explosion
that reverberated into my torn vitals,
numbing my mind, and shattering my heart!
When they removed the cover,
the air, smelling like another country,
passed away to heaven
and left a broken doll behind.
I stroked her burned and matted hair
once as fine as silk,
once grown as long as her waist,
and now to be her final remnant.
I caressed her scorched face,
still a little dirty,
and remembered its smooth delicacy,
with a nose she thought too large,
with ears she thought too small,
and lips that would never kiss again,
that once framed a dazzling smile,
now chipped and split and splintered.
Her eyes once shone with mischief and joy,
the animate windows of the soul,
but now, through clustered lashes,
stared dully into endless nothingness.
I felt her chest,
wrecked open where her pulse used to pound,
where her small breasts perched,
never to nurse my grandchildren.
And I touched her fractured hips,
that would never carry another life
into this veil of tears.
I held her soft hand,
with its long musician's fingers
and cracked fingernails,
where dried blood and foreign soil
was packed so deeply into the crevices
that my tears could not wash them clean!
I patted her shapely legs,
which she thought too fat,
and felt the muscles of an athlete,
now disjointed and disarrayed.
I fondled her poor tired-looking feet,
still marked by her combat boots,
and recalled the majesty
of counting each cherished toe
on a perfect baby.
Her presence was a dear gift of God.
Her loss is a cruelty beyond measure!
The savage destruction
of this beloved present,
too briefly bestowed,
is an unbearable torment!
The whole world is turned upside down
when a parent must bury a child,
even if she's a good and proud soldier.
'Tis the cruelest gift of all!
by Viktor von Bruderkin
... who is a former Marine, a war veteran, an amateur poet and
thespian, whose work has appeared previously in this magazine.