Veteran’s Lament

Wounded veterans pose with 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commander Paul L. Wentz and the Air Force Theater Hospital commander Air Force Col. Mark Koeniger under Hero's Highway, the passageway that brings injured Warfighters from the medical evacuation helicopters to the emergency department at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; Oct. 19, 2009. (Credit:  U.S. Army Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

Wounded veterans pose with 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commander Paul L. Wentz and the Air Force Theater Hospital commander Air Force Col. Mark Koeniger under Hero’s Highway, the passageway that brings injured Warfighters from the medical evacuation helicopters to the emergency department at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; Oct. 19, 2009. (Credit: U.S. Army Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

If the kingdom of God is within you, so is the kingdom of Hell. I have seen more than I can speak, and nothing ever turned out as I expected.

And through it all I followed the flag. The flag!

I once baptized unbelievers in the rivers of Asia. I wore a sacred amulet which I lost in a firefight, and later found around the neck of an Asian boy. I gave him a chocolate bar in trade for it, because I felt threatened and vulnerable without it.

They told me that if I hang on this cross Resurrection will follow, but I suspect that was only another lie. I sacrificed for country, but there was no country where I was sent, and no country left when I returned; only those around me, who sacrificed as well. I sent many of them to die, and whenever I cross a dark tunnel I can hear their ghostly footsteps, wanting to come home with me, haunting my steps and my dreams. Only before the Wall can I commune with them, and yet they can never cross over. Only at the Wall before their names do I find comfort.

I hang like Odin bound hand and foot from Yggdrasil, where he learned to read the runes. I don’t know if wisdom or knowledge will come from this everlasting convalescence or from the wound in my left eye. I’m told that New Life stirs within me, and sometimes I sense a golden glow around my head. But I’m too lost in shadows, buried by melancholic inertia, driven to despair. I wait like an Old Testament Jew who awaits the Messiah.

I cannot see Mary Magdalene, but I feel her near. Little children play around, throwing stones at me as they pass in play. I do not mind them. I like them, and I like their laughter and their stories.

Oh the horror! The horror! The pain of glory, the wound at the heart of the sacrifice!

I never wanted to die like the Lord, so I asked them to hang me upside down. Father Gary once said: “Our God turns our world upside down.” Father Gary was a fan of the Grateful Dead. I understand now how you can be grateful and dead.

Offering roses dipped in blood to the sun, like the warrior in his trial, not in battle but in mystic wrestling with an alligator of pain, and the sole object of the station is survival, and a seat in the Lodge of the Sun Dance. What keeps me alive is the yearning for love of Mary Magdalene; at the foot of the cross, the love of Mary Magdalene.

I hang in the darkness to be questioned by God among lights and shadows. (I followed the flag!) I cannot speak of the dead I have seen. I cannot mention the mud and rain, the desert sand in my mouth and nostrils, the icy, shark-infested waters, the spreading ooze of blackened oil, the burning masts and sinking machinery of the aircraft carrier. The bird on fire plunges down from the sky in a blaze. The earth receives it like a mother receiving the corpse of her dying child on her lap. No sound compares with the cry of a mother lamenting the death of her son. My cry is silent to human ears; it resembles the howl of a wounded animal, unable or unwilling to escape from the trap.

Two robbers on opposite sides of Christ: one says if you’re so great, so brave and bold a hero, why don’t you free yourself, you fraud, you coward and you clown. The other one says he was better than we were. He went and served something, sacrificed for someone, loves and suffers on the cross. Why berate him? Remember me, when you reach your kingdom.

I can’t escape the memories. Darkness blinds me now.

OG

"Odin und Fenriswolf Freyr und Surt," by Emil Doepler. A scene from Ragnarök, the final battle between Odin and Fenrir and Freyr and Surtr, published circa 1905.

“Odin und Fenriswolf Freyr und Surt,” by Emil Doepler. A scene from Ragnarök, the final battle between Odin and Fenrir and Freyr and Surtr, published circa 1905.

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