Friday, May 27, 2016

"It is a picnic."

In May of 1993, you were a scared kid, just like me.
Your Senior Skip Day, we cut class and had a picnic in the grass at Sylvan Beach.
It was nothing to you to pocket a six pack in your ratty plaid back pack.
The sun was warm but the wind was cool.
Seagulls flocked the tankers lining up to enter the ship channel
and we watched each one go by.
I asked you why.
You smoked your Marlboro for a minute in silence.
Thumped your thin chest beneath your Fugazi t-shirt and answered,
"The Army is the only way for me, a guy with no prospects, to leave this town."
I thought you had prospects but I didn't say anything.
Neither one of us had ever seen a painter make a living doing anything
besides painting the insides of tanks among the chemical plants lining Highway 225 .

"Besides the Gulf War is over.  It'll be a picnic."  You drew a smiley face in the air with the tip of your cigarette and gave a cocky grin.

Years passed.
You sent letters, instead of emails all along, so you could tuck in drawings for me.
Vague ink and pencil landscapes or easy caricatures
on the paper inside of Hershey Bar or Double-Mint Gum wrappers.
Occasionally, a picture of you.
Your thin chest picked up mass.
I sent you a new Fugazi t-shirt in tan.

One day, before the letters stopped, I asked you why again.
I could tell you chewed your pencil as you wrote your reply.
The few things you erased remained smeared artifacts of your courage
until the pencil lead became so faint and fine
that it looked like chicken scratches, lines in sand.
I can still read it.

"You know why.  It is a picnic. It's easy to stand in a tent shower with everybody else's shower water backed up above my ankles, do dull drills, clean shit no one will ever use, and generally waste my time because it is about a picnic. "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness." Remember?  I re-up because it takes a lot of peons and grunts to do anything worthwhile.  I give a grunt and get peed-on because it serves our country.  It's how I helped make sure you could have a picnic on your senior skip day too.  It's your picnic."

You didn't come home for another one,
but I do remember.
I never forget
it is a picnic
and this one
is for you.

One of those gum wrapper sketches.

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