For Johnny

On vellum pages of his daily journal
Nam-scars etched in spilled blood
sliced through knotted muscle
through blood icy with fear
through bone shattered like crystal
through tattered marrow of teenage grit.

Haunted eyes turned skyward
he begged on bended knee to forget
cries of the tortured
splitting a moonless night
and the itch of mud and blood-sucking
leeches on sunburned skin
unaware the terror would forever
replay across a 3-D screen
in dark corners of his mind
until hair-thin filaments bridging sanity
snapped.

Each wound, body and mind
cracked split oozed
into the horror of war at home.
Taunting slurs from a hyped-up mob
cursed his return, fisted
hands punching hostile air
pelting him with a barrage of rocks
hate-filled spit staining his Army dress jacket.

Watching from the edges of a raging
hometown crowd, I didn’t spit.
I didn’t fight either.
I should have fought—
fought for Johnny and the others
raised my fist against the crowd
yelled STOP!

But I was raising a son—a son
I feared would fight in foreign lands
would suffer the scars and spit of war
etch them in spilled blood
on vellum pages of his daily journal.

Johnny Frye and I attended elementary through high school together. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam. He came home from the war but lost the battle addicted to drugs. One day while swimming in the Eel River in Northern California he dove off a rock into a too-shallow pool, hitting his head, ending up a paraplegic. I visited him once while he was in the hospital and took him to out to lunch, one of the few outings he had. Several years later he died in a car crash. I’d always wished I had made the effort to see him more often. This poem is for him.

© Susan Parker
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author’s written permission.