Men, War, and Families

Poet Robert Johnson

This is a powerful poem of healing from the post-traumatic stress disorder of our never-ending wars by remembering that if you take a life you must honor the life taken.

Men, War, and families

For the men who
never came back
from war
living or dead
I salute your
knowing now
why many brothers
and fathers
have gone
so very far away.
A generation of
fathered sons
and daughters
is only a lasting
peace away.

—Robert Francis Johnson

"Lunch" is the result of a man being welcomed back from the Vietnam war [something that has never been officially done] in a ceremony at Ghost Ranch by the men's wellness community. Gordon Mustain came about after that ceremony as that night was Gordon's first full night sleep since the war. The poem is self explanatory to the healing of wounds caused by the never-ending wars of America. The second poem is about how the wounds of our warriors if not cared for become the distance we feel from our fathers,and the psychological and often physical violence such wounds cause;I know the distance one well for I've had two fathers neither one was ever able to be there for me."Always the more beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question" ee cummings.


He came to lunch with me today
the Vietnamese boy
sat at the table on my left,
as he always does
and my hand trembled
as I tried to eat

I've never known his name
Odd, because
he's been around so long-
twenty-four years
on the edges of my dreams,
twenty-four years
a silent presence
haunting the sleepless
early-morning hours
that sometimes snatch me still
too-easily alarmed
from sleep —

Fourteen years, maybe fifteen,
(hard to tell with all the blood),
beatified with fierce pride
of new manhood,
childhood innocence
burnished by war
to a hard
metallic sheen.
I've come to love him,
this boy so like myself,
but still
my hand trembled
as I raised my cup to drink —

He didn't eat,
(he never does)
Just watched me
(as he always does
never speaking,
watched me
silent through his pain —

Silent since that dark
and early-morning hour
twenty-four years ago,
jungle-dark and early-morning hour
when he cried out in warning to his brothers
as we lay tense and trembling
he and I,
trapped in bloody embrace
in the fear-kissed dark
of the killing field,
cries out again
in warning
and in pain
as I put one hand over
the hole in his gut
to stop the blood,
one over his mouth
to stop the cries —

He writhes,
twisting from my touch,
thrashes in shadow
as I reach again
to silence his cries,
our tortured dance
masking sounds
of his brothers'
painting us as targets
in the dark —

And the
hiss-whispered order
flung with desperate urgency
from the darkness
on my right:
"Cut that slope's throat!

Shadow-fractured moonlight flows
the cutting edge of knife I draw
with bloody hand.
“Please,” I whisper, “Don't”
lift my hand (“Please!”)
from his lips
(“Please don't!”) cries
erupt anew
and I raise the blade
and choose —

He's never cried out since,
nor laughed,
this beautiful man-child warrior.
He simply watches me,
like at lunch,
trying to talk, to chew,
to swallow.
No longer seeking escape.
Trying only
to control the trembling —

He came to lunch with me today,
and I don't mind so much any more.
I wish I knew his name
so I could set him free —

You see
you cannot kill someone
without becoming jailer
to his soul.

Gordon Mustain

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