combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2007

Looking Up

"Admiration is a very short-lived passion that immediately decays upon growing familiar with its object, unless it be still fed with fresh discoveries, and kept alive by a new perpetual succession of miracles rising up to its view."
by Joseph Addison [#256 Spectator (24 Dec 1711)]

      I stared at his brightly polished shoes
      Each as large as my head
      My hand resting on his girded leg
      Neatly wrapped by a bleached puttee
      Like a legging of surgical bandage
      Ready to hand to attend his own wounds
      I'd watched him bathe and dress
      Covering the puckered punctures
      And the faded Indian head tattoo
      2nd Infantry Division shoulder patch With a special, almost magical cloth
      That only warm-blooded statues could wear
      Towering far above little boy's dreams
      Someone worthy of looking up to
      He was my grandfather
      Dressed in this antiquated soldier suit
      High necked and plain
      From his time in uniform, the Great War
      The war to end all wars
      To once again be displayed on parade
      This Armistice Day
      And I saw him reflected in the dark mirror of his boots
      A shadowed skull beneath a campaign hat
      So I turned to look up
      Gazing across the vast plane of his massive chest
      Probing the solemn eyes
      That had seen too much
      And saw only more trouble ahead
      For every man's son in days to come
      24th Infantry Division shoulder
patch But I could no more read that visionary augury
      Than the row of strangely colored ribbons
      Pinned above his pocket
      And though I looked up
      At his face, seamed with care
      I could no more comprehend his visage
      Than the difference in our hands
      His blunt, hardened by rough work
      And mine, softer than thistledown
      My father, then still in pinks and greens
      Was heading for occupation duty in Japan
      Where I would look up at him
      A giant among small stiff men
      And see him change with the next war
      His second
      A bitter and ruthless fight
      That made nonsense of sacrifice
      He would serve his third with my first, and only
      4th Infantry Division shoulder patch But when looking up
      I learned not to search his scarred face
      Its signs and portents were best avoided
      So I wandered the offices and avenues
      Of every assigned post
      Looking up, following through
      Noticing the differences
      From state to state, continent to continent
      Checking directions
      Studying details
      Inspecting uniforms
      Discovering the person within the impersonal shell
      Finding things that others overlooked or forgot
      Smiling eyes behind the scowl
      A cork leg in a paratrooper boot
      Missing fingers belaying the rappelling rope
      A rich contralto singing our anthem
      A veteran who's never forgotten the ones left behind
      And then, one unremarkable day, I realized
      That I was all grown up
      And didn't have to look up at anyone anymore
      And I felt more important and more capable
      Stronger and faster and better
      And more powerful
      Proud of being the next generation
      To don the mantle of American heritage
      Proud of seeing farther
      For having been lifted up
      By my betters
      Without noticing them strain
      Idols aren't supposed to think or feel
      And the view from aloft was truly magnificent
      We would count their achievements as part of our own
      A birthright
      And pretend
      As we were looking up, out and away
      To build a fantasy bridge from their past to our future
      But I wasn't great, like them
      And I knew it
      But had these surpassing models ever been lost or confused?
      Had my champions felt as uncertain and disheartened as I?
      And so I found myself seeking
      Someone or something
      To look up to
      And while there were some outstanding specimens
      Some witty, some attractive
      Some talented, some courageous
      None of them stood the test of time
      Their preeminence had feet of clay
      It was like each had concentrated on single mastery
      To the neglect of all else
      And I shortly detected
      The identical fallacy in my own makeup
      Leaving me disillusioned and bereft
      It was just one more tantalizing unfairness
      Another unattainable expectation
      Such a shame to always be reminded of our imperfection
      And yet we muddle through
      Believing that things will get better
      Pretending that things are important
      Imagining that things are challenging
      Going through the motions
      Going through the emotions
      Going about our affairs for the meanest of reasons
      Step after step along this interminable journey
      Collecting our pay
      Paying our dues
      Paying our bills
      Paying our way
      Day after day
      And always falling short
      Looking up and wondering
      How have I fallen so low?
      The last thing I remember is standing
      Looking up from an LZ
      Signaling an incoming flight of 'copters
      And then looking up
      Into the sympathetic eyes of the OR nurse
      A wondrous angel in Army green scrubs
      The harbinger of an angelic host
      Then miles and years later
      After enduring a plague of medicos
      I'm still looking up
      At everyone
      From my gurney or wheelchair
      Staring at the myriad variety of abdominals
      Gazing at the wattles and dewlaps of innumerable jowls
      Speculating on the front and rear padding of casuals
      Looking up the nasty nostrils of too many people
      And getting a little depressed
      About this pathetic array of dissimilarities
      About this diverse unconformity
      About this passing parade
      Of the ordinary tramping toward the extraordinary
      From nowhere to nowhere
      So I share a home with other misfits and wildings
      And we all know
      There, but for the grace of God, go I
      It's our shared testament
      In making this commitment
      We grant one another the latitude
      That no one else will warrant
      Allowing us to look up to each other
      As brothers-in-trust
      It's not about having the will to power
      Making a triumphal conquest over adversity
      It's about hope
      Hope that compassion will reign
      It's about faith
      Faith that conviction will matter
      It's about trust
      Trust that sacrifice will influence the final outcome
      If not everywhere then somewhere
      And so it goes
      By the time you appreciate where you are
      You are everything you've ever done
      And that is everything you are or will ever be
      And none of the unfulfilled potential matters
      Neither do the broken promises
      To yourself and others
      For when you're inevitably sliding over that inexorable edge
      All you can do is look up and say
      O my God, I am heartily sorry for offending Thee
      I regret disappointing You by making a mess of everything
      And I ask Your forgiveness for my failings
      For even when I tried as hard as I could
      It was much too little
      And often much too late
      With my too many shortcomings
      Perhaps disappointing me more than anyone
      And though I knew this time would come
      Was coming from the beginning
      When I had no thought of anything but me
      It seems much too sudden
      Too quick, too abrupt
      Leaving me with things unsaid and things undone
      As if a last goodbye would matter
      After so much ignorance
      And petty preoccupation
      Looking up is all I've ever been able to do
      It seems so little
      And is the very least
      But it is in the right direction
      Looking up
      All the way!

by Achill Kerne
... who is a combat disabled veteran and freelance writer of enigmatic works published in obscure literary magazines, evanescent chapbooks, and other cultural ephemera; his home is a haven to wildings, host to misfits, and hostel to other societal detritus.

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