What Good Is It? - by Steve Cannon

It wasn't a phone call But a man from administration

Who told me in the middle of a lecture

That my sister's husband had been killed in Vietnam.

I had been lecturing on the contemporary novels

Of such authors as Barthelme, Chester Himes,

Ishmael Reed and Thomas Pynchon among others

While still thinking about the massacres at Kent State

At Jackson State, where the National Guard

Had slaughtered college students.

And with these images floating,

I could see my sister, Beverly,

Sitting there, wondering

What's to become of her and her children

Now that her husband is dead.

It was with me, next to her, in Philadelphia,

Listening and nodding as she rambled on

About how she and her husband, Phillip, had met

When she was only 17 in D.C. when she had gone

To stay with our older sister, Doris.

And while sitting there with the shades drawn

And the lights down low -- she talked about

What it was like to be married to someone

Who had been in the military for 20 years,

Traveling from base to base,

The times Phillip was gone

And she was left alone with the kids.

The times that she was pregnant --

The births of her seven kids

And how they had finally settled in Philadelphia,

Where Phillip had been born.

It was to be his last year in the military

But now this happened.

Our other sisters and brothers arrived on the

Day of the funeral and Beverly decided

She wanted a closed coffin.

She had been told by the army

That Phillip had died by falling off a bridge

But, Alan, my other brother-in-law,

Did not believe the Army.

He wanted to see the body, He kept grumbling

"But how do we know that Phillip's in there?

How do we know the army didn't make a mistake?

How do we know it isn't someone else's body in there?"

But Beverly never changed her mind.

And it was there at the gravesite, the coffin

Covered in Red, White and Blue, we all started

Sobbing trying to avoid each others eyes

And I thought about my sister and her loss,

The war in Vietnam

The protest against the war,

Those who had been drafted, those who refused to go

And fighting for something you didn't believe in

And there she sat with her seven children, overcome

With emotion as they lured his remains into the grave.

And the only thought that stayed with me

Throughout these 30 years is, what good is it?

What did it all mean?