As the caisson rolled past

With the flag draped coffin

Some of the crowd began falling in

Behind it

For the most part, a scruffy bunch

In jeans, T-shirts,

Here and there an old faded field jacket

There were more than a few beards

And hair of a length no longer in vogue

Looking close would reveal one or two

Carrying memories in the way

Of a missing arm or leg

More than one wheelchair

Rolled along

And all carried the memories in their eyes

Terrible eyes to behold

But what you noticed first

Was the silence

Not one said a word

Even the crowd murmurs stopped

And grew quiet as they passed

Walking side by side, some falling

In natural step

The group growing larger as more

Of their kind fell in with them

No word spoken in invitation

Just the natural pull of  the remains

Of one of their own

Never meant to be part of the procession

Never a part of the ceremonies

But not to be denied

For he was theirs

He didn’t belong to the politician

Or lifers in green

Who had never walked with him before

Never squatted with him beside a path

To quickly eat motherfuckers and beans

From a cold green can

And had never cried with him in fear of a place

Worse than the most horrifying childhood dreams

Nor stood with him and picked the pieces

Of their best friend from all around a clearing

Scrapping some of him off their own clothes

They had never lain beside him in terror

Firing off clip after clip into the darkness

And screamed the full throated screams

That would awaken those who survived

Night after night, year after year

The politicians and lifers had not been there

To zip him into a body bag to send him back home

But they were here now for his parade

There had been no parade for those

Now following behind

But this would be theirs as well

They would become

The Vietnam Veterans Marching Band

With only the sound echoing in their ears

The sounds, the smells, and the sights

They would carry ever

Now marching on, a few hundred strong

To the end of the procession

Where there were words and speeches

But they heard none of  them

The words were not theirs

Words were not enough

Words were not….

The uninvited still stood strong

Silently together

When taps began to play

Some saluted

Some placed their hands over their hearts

But the silence gave way

To soft rustling as tears were wiped away

Then came a sniff or two

And from some the sobs of unabashed anguish

They were burying one of their own

A part of themselves that would never heal

They needed no words

They needed only to finally come home


                     MAR 84

             ATLANTA, GA