Featured Writer: Joseph S. Pete

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,

dutifully accompanied

by a Golden Retriever,

marched upfront.

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

Headshot 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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