From California to the New York Island
On Memorial Day, amid all the mattress sales,
the sprawling, shambolic family gathered
in a beige-carpeted living room
with kitschy flag throw pillows
and faded-glory reproductions
for a patriotism-themed “presentation”
complete with a printed-out program
that was folded and stapled with care.
Scrubbed young kids,
by a Golden Retriever,
They rattled off the Pledge of Allegiance,
an uncertain list of all the states,
the Preamble to the Constitution,
capping it all with a warbling rendition
of “This Land is Your Land.”
They grasped to remember the words,
their memory banks depleted
from all that rote recitation.
The veteran squirmed the whole time
and cringed when asked
to summarize his service
to the extended family in attendance.
He was the only one to have served
after the military went from a universal rite of passage
to an all-volunteer suicide squad.
He wanted to scream
that Memorial Day had nothing
to do with any of this,
nothing to do with all this pageantry
or unbridled commerce in low-slung strip malls.
He wanted to shout that Memorial Day
was supposed to be about the war dead,
mostly landless teens
from hardscrabble cities and roughneck towns,
who were pressed into service
by invisible but no less inexorable forces,
and who ended up snuffed-out embers,
deprived of any future,
of any smoldering cinder that could spark into a hopeful tomorrow.
© Joseph S. Pete
About the Author
Joseph S. Pete is an Iraq War veteran, an award-winning journalist, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His work has appeared in Indiana Voice Journal, Prairie Winds, The Grief Diaries, The Dime Store Review, The Five-Two, Chicago Literati, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pulp Modern, Zero Dark Thirty and elsewhere. He once Googled the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. True story, believe it or not.
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