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?