When you are seventeen, only lightning will kill you,
so we stood on that deadly edge
having held off the enemy, made
the last ten yards to glory
and posed for the A-Squad cheerleaders.
You leave your town 10,000 miles behind
to come to the last thirty feet of moonless air between you.
Richard recalled their camp under siege and said:
“Scrambling in the dark, I
heard a voice from home.
It was Joe the boxer—remember
how he would give up his left leg
when he tried out for wrestling?”
How come Martin met up with Ray who left
the college dorm lounge with a bad number
the night the TV man said we interrupt Mayberry RFD
so you can see a man cry by the hall phone
and watch the draft lottery instead?
Leading a water supply detail Marty hears
Ray chuckle his young goat chuckle,
and smart ass remark from thirty feet,
knows the familiar laugh that went with it,
far from the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Ray came back intact it seemed,
with special powers to cure the blip
on the old TV by sheer concentration.
So we watched Columbo with our mental powers
and a coat hanger.
Ray got the Orange over there,
spent so much time in the bush he still whispered.
And I’ve heard a young girl trying to walk by her man,
kept wondering why, after a year of healing,
she still pulled tiny metal springs from his flesh.
She never said how many springs she’d picked
from the fragile lace of his mind.
It was the same all over America with thirty feet of black air
between us, and the blip between them.
10,000 miles yet suddenly—in the living room—
around dinner time, twenty feet from the sofa,
broadcasting the napalm heat
that cooked the roast,
the drunken TV slurred
with its blips,
with its snow,
with its confusion.
Call it confusion when air-lifted, the deck of that helicopter
with its sodden gauze, coagulated meat and fragments
came twenty feet from the dinner table of a numb nation.
Yeah man, why do the good ones go?
Although Ray got the Orange,
it couldn’t be foretold the night we partied
with the Nigerians and marveled how they moved
to Aretha’s “Chain of Fools” and how after 3 a.m.
we pulled a rug over us in the study room of some dorm
we snuck into and slept like dogs on the Kalahari.
it couldn’t be foretold when Ray turned the key
on his Ford but—I swear—in perfect timing, spring of ’68,
the radio made it so I never forgot “It’s a beautiful morning,”
nor all those brothers who sang along.
Header photo of lightning by sethink, courtesy Pixabay. Audio recording courtesy Spokane Public Radio.