A PATRIOT’S DAY
Among the dark and gritty men
Who smell of bourbon, soaked in sin,
Rise from beds on broken ground
Few murmured prayers that hope be found.
Among the pus-filled, bloated gang
Who still remember hymns they sang,
Rise sweat and urine offerings––
Incense to the king of kings.
Forgotten, they lay dying here,
The men who served year after year.
Those who lost their minds to war
Forget what they had been before.
Blood and feces mixing, stain
Tattered rags now soaked by rain.
Small fires sputter in the grate.
They can’t be saved. It’s much too late.
So keep on walking. Lock your doors.
Ignore old vets of foreign wars.
Among the trash we sweep aside
Sleep heroes––and our nation’s pride.
I wrote this years ago, still haunted by my first trip to Washington, D.C.. We had driven in to visit the Smithsonian, but on the way passed through a neighborhood where homeless men were sleeping on the sidewalk. Some who were awake were warming themselves at a fire in a barrel. Until then, I had thought those things happened only in movies. Yes, I was young and naive. My hometown did have homeless people, but not so many, not in one place. And this was Washington, D.C., The Capital. The real eye-opener for me was the abrupt change in environment as we passed through one intersection. Suddenly we were in the world of wealth and power, the politician’s world, the real capital. The truth that these worlds existed side by side (and nobody was doing anything about it) clouded the rest of my visit. I was happy to leave.
I hope this piece isn’t read as an insult or criticism of those souls who have lost so much, including their dignity, fighting for this country, those whose suffering continues long after they’ve returned home. They are not the only forgotten. Just as not all veterans are homeless, not all the homeless are veterans. Many of those who never served in the military have also been fighting wars—addiction, mental illness, chronic illness, and plain bad luck.
I wonder how often the men and women who work in D.C. drive through those neighborhoods, there in Washington or in their own hometowns. Do they see the suffering? Do they see the people? Do any of us? Why are we okay with it? If the billionaires running for office cared as much about making this country great again as they claim, maybe they could put some of that money where it’s really needed.