I sit quietly, alone.
I acknowledge an unseen mechanism
to stave off this kind of news.
Somehow it’s not possible, not real,
not there, a myth.
Of course it’s all illusion.
If there’s any meaning in this life
it can’t quite pass the mind
that knows—it’s illusion.
We “make stuff up”.
Still, his wife is real,
though I don’t know her.
No note, no warning sign;
I can bear anything except that
“failure to communicate”.
Are we really all alone here?
If you have an inclination to end it
if you share that with someone
they’ll try to stop you—to intervene
but if you die alone
you leave those who love you—alone
and distant friends like me—alone
You leave wakes and ripples
whatever you do, but death
holds this ultimate weight,
creates a void, a great displacement.
It’s why we who have been to war
can’t quite leave it behind,
not only the experience of death,
that’s no surprise, except how close it came—
but rather, how big it is around you—
how alone it makes you
how all alone and wary
This is number nine of friends,
veterans, who’ve gone that way—
Frankie the Maineiac rode his Harley off a cliff,
insurance in place to send three sons to college.
Nicko, long slow death by alcohol
and he wouldn’t stop, god damn his bones;
then add in David Cline, same damn deal.
Add Jack McCloskey.
John Mulligan published his novel,
stepped off a curb to kiss a truck.
And great happy Air Force rescue pilot Steve
biggest smile ever, done in by business sharks;
and rescue diver Dan who lost his boat
and broke his heart.
And mother’s second husband Art, Navy WWII Pacific,
by rifle—he was on his way out,
refused to die in a hospital—
but no note, where was the love?
What’s over there? Only one way to know,
but what’s the hurry? Pain. Maybe impulse?
Still, the one main thing the military teaches us—
endure and survive—and never volunteer—
You don’t go there ’til you’ve tried everything.
Ted Sexauer was a combat medic in the Vietnam War and is now an activist for nonviolence. He is a charter member of the Veteran Writers Group mentored by Maxine Hong Kingston.