Wilfred, I wish I could share this New England gin
with you. Tonic, lime, ice, and a sprig of rosemary here
on the Florida coast where I wouldn’t ask
about your writing.
I’ve heard many great poets read you.
I know your poems well enough, but those greats always remind the class
that you died
just a week before the war ended. They mean it as commentary
on how cruel war can be,
as if war is only cruel and random in the week before it ends.
The truth is, Wilfred, we both know how lucky you were,
that your wife never found you crying in the early morning
with a shotgun between your legs,
and you never had to listen to the doctors telling you
the war had killed you despite your survival, it was just taking its time.
Your family got the glory and never had to watch
as a corpse in a chair.
I’m glad you didn’t have to watch Dresden become ash,
and or see the pictures of the camps. Hell, I’m glad
you can’t see the drones over Yemen and their targets under twelve years old.
You were buried in France, did you know?
In Ors, where you died, they named a primary school after you.
But you’re in the ground, next to the boys you fought beside.
Maybe you wouldn’t admit it until the third or fourth drink,
old boy, but we both know you did it right.
I just hope it was quick. That’s all soldiers can wish for each other.
I hope it was a cloudless day, and a perfect seventy-two degrees.
I hope the rounds from the machine gun smacked center-mass,
and that you bled out painlessly.
I hope that you were left alone to die as the soldiers pushed on, as they’re trained to do.
You never heard the schools debate your work, or pretend to know
what life is like in the smoke and fire.
You went out as a soldier should
because survivor’s guilt sticks in all the places
doctors can’t reach –
I’m alive and I’ll be the last one left alive, old boy,
because that’s the curse.
Could you imagine being the only person
who knows what the Sambre-Oise Canal
smelled like on November the 4th, 1918?
It’ll be me one day, sitting alone at a reunion
because I’m going to watch
the men who called me Doc
drop here and there over the years,
as if the slowest sniper was taking the shots.
I don’t go to the funerals, Wilfred.
Instead I wonder why I survived and feel guilty for doing so.
They were good men, all of them, and I’m glad you didn’t know them like I did.
They won’t bury us beside each other.
Yes, that’s changed and so has the gin.
Better now and won’t rot your eyes out of your head.
You didn’t miss anything worth seeing. I could say the same about myself.
The world is the same as it ever was, and I do know this, Wilfred, you did it right.
You died when there was hope that humanity had learned that the world burns too easily,
and I couldn’t be happier for you.