On my desk is a picture of Daddy
Taken before I was born
He stands in front of a muddy M113
Somewhere in central Vietnam.
At his right hand is an M-79
At his left an old transistor job
One allowed him to kill
The other told him of home.
He stares out with eyes too old
For the nineteen years they have seen
Clad only in old field fatigues
Mudstains marring their green.
He sent Mama the picture
To assure her he was alive.
On the back a simple message
“Excuse how I look, we’d been out all night.”
The white borders of the Polaroid
are streaked with Vietnam clay
The look on Daddy’s unshaven face
Speaks about a very long day.
I’ve kept this picture on my desk
Of a man I never have met
His living body returned years ago
But most of his soul hasn’t yet.
Some casualties of that senseless war
Aren’t listed on a black granite Wall
My childhood home is one
of the unnamed things to fall.
Mama says the man she kissed on Easter
and sent overseas to fight
Is not the same man who returned
Haunted by dreams in the night.
So I look at the picture and wonder
As sons are oft wont to do
how my life might have changed had I
been raised by the Daddy Mama knew.
But ever time I think about Daddy
through pain I cannot help but consider
How much the young man in the Polaroid
Has shaped the man in my mirror.
I originally wrote this poem about Daddy somewhere around ten years ago or so, give or take a year or two. I made a few very slight changes when I posted it here. I gave it to him on Father’s Day and he proceeded to yell at me about the fact that I hadn’t had my little brother in my wedding. As far as I knew then, he didn’t even open the envelope the poem was in and I left aggravated at him as usual. Flash forward ten years. Daddy, Nick (my little brother) and I were together at Nick’s new house building a dog kennel when Daddy turned to me and said, “You know that poem you wrote me?” Before I could answer he went on, “One copy of it is on the wall at the V.A. in Salisbury (a PTSD treatment center in NC), another copy is on the wall of the V.A. in Columbia, and one is on the wall in Greenville (SC at the V.A. center where Daddy goes for his regular PTSD therapy.)” I was dumbstruck and finally managed to say, “Really?”, but he’d already gone back to work. Budge said later, when I was relating the story to her, “That’s the only way your daddy knows to tell you he loves you . . . ambush style.”
Of all the stuff I’ve written, this is probably one of if not the favorite of them all.