January 26, 2010

Gary Earl Ross

FOR THE MAN WHOSE SON MY SON KILLED

You must understand this: my son
called me after his first firefight,
distraught that he had taken life
when I had taught him to cherish it.
He called me, said he felt weird
and needed to talk to somebody.
Who better than the father who
carried him in a backpack, read
him a bedtime story each night,
and would always love him?
I’m here, I said. Tell me about it.
He did, and I listened, offering
mmm-hmms and yesses and words
of comfort when his voice caught.

Afterward he felt better and returned
to his duties in this dubious war.
Meanwhile, I was relieved he had
survived another day of the insanity.
On his second tour his vehicle hit a
roadside bomb. Bleeding from his
eyes because of a concussion, he flew
to the military hospital in Germany and
later came home. Again I was relieved.
Today, on the first leg of his third trip
to the Twilight Zone we’ve made of
your home, he called. I was glad to hear
his voice. Glad every damn time, ever-
terrified your experience will be mine.

Later, when NPR broadcast a wailing
Iraqi father who’d lost two sons in this
chaos, I thought of you for the first time,
wondered if you were that father. It was
purely chance that your son aimed at mine
and mine squeezed off an auto-burst first.
Two—no, three fathers in agony because
our leaders are all fools. Still, someone
should recognize your pain. I do, sir,
and so does my son, himself a father.
We are both sorry for your loss.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets