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Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11---Time Plus Distance

The following is an article I wrote for 9/11 in a law enforcement gazette. It is six years old, and I offer it as it was printed then. The feelings and emotions never diminish. What was true then is true still. God help us.
~ James


This post colors outside the lines for which this site was created. It is neither poetry nor prose. It is an artcle I was asked to write by Dr. Olivia Johnson, editor of a law enforcement journal, based near St. Louis. As a 20 year veteran of law enforcement I have often been tapped to provide either commentary or personal presentation on topics near and dear to the hearts of officers and citizens. What follows is the content of my submission to the journal. The format prohibits proper indentation, and that's frustrating. I hope you'll overlook that. Its focus is the 10th anniversary of the attacks on our country on September 11, 2001. I pray our country be granted victory over the evils of terrorism. I pray we be consoled in our national grief. I further pray we return to that image of a nation long-ago cast for us by our founding fathers. My article speaks for itself, and beside it I firmly stand.
~ James Woods

Nine Eleven
Time Plus Distance

A melon sun rises beyond the apron at Dover Air Force Base. A hushed detail somberly lifts a flag draped casket from a C-17 Globemaster. Silent salutes honor the slain warrior. The body is on its stateside journey to a devastated family. The detail does an about face and returns into the cavern of the C-17 for another casket. And another. And another.
America slogs through its longest war. It’s so long, fifth grade students don’t remember a time we were not at war. Nearly 4,500 Americans have died as a result of our action in the Middle East. The ally who has suffered the second most battle deaths is the UK, who’ve lost under 200. Each loss has a common genesis.
September 11, 2001 is engraved on the American soul. We all remember where we were when the jets struck the Towers. We viewed endless replays of our buildings collapsing in smoke and dust. We’ve seen that slash in the Pennsylvania soil, caused by the heroic tumble of United Flight 93. Our Pentagon was in flames, our people dead. We knew, instantly, we were at war. Nobody had to tell us. There was no “day that will live in infamy” speech. Our families huddled and wept. We joined in religious services and prayed. We fixed flags to our cars. We sang “God Bless America,” a bit more loudly than before. We sent our sons and daughters to places so strange our American tongues had difficulty pronouncing the names. We smiled at “Shock and Awe,” and distantly felt the thunder of our bombs and rockets lighting the skies over Baghdad. We cheered when an American soldier hung our flag from the stony statue of Saddam Hussein. There was no pretending. This was payback. Revenge. And it felt sweet. It was sweet…until that C-17 landed with a box for you. Then it was bitter and terrible. But we still believe.
When the sun set on September 11, I was in uniform, standing before hundreds of citizens from my city. The mayor asked me to pray and say some encouraging words. It’s been ten years. I don’t remember what I said. When I finished, a sea of small candles winked to life, in the hands of those standing along both banks of the DuPage River. Somebody started to sing “God Bless America.” The tune was joined by a swell of many voices. When the song ended, there came a hush. A holy hush.
A little boy walked up to me. Tugging my pant leg, his little face looked into mine. I bowed to hear him. He said, “Thank you for protecting us.” I had nothing to say. I am paid to say things, but there was nothing to say. Eventually I choked out, “You’re welcome.” He smiled, and trotted back to his mom.
I drove home in silence that night. I kept hearing the little boy. “Thank you for protecting us.” And I understood what I still understand. There is little I can do to protect anyone. Not because I’m a chaplain, and don’t wear a weapon. But because there is always evil out there, determined to destroy what is good and pure. We can fight. We send our most precious to stand in the breech, to protect us. And they do. But the fingers of evil are rough and strong. Insistent. We may protect our way of life, but always at an enormous cost.
I fear for my country. Not because of what the enemy may do, but because of what we are doing to ourselves. When I look out my window, I no longer see a country at war. I see a country at ease. Cars no longer fly flags on the antennae. Nobody cheers our colors. At parades, when the honor guard passes, and our flag flutters in the breeze, crowds remain seated on the curb. Hands no longer move to cover hearts. A few old men stand to salute, and I firmly believe every one of them are vets, who’ve been to war. They know the price demanded to give those seated on their collective butts the freedom to do so.
Nine Eleven. Those words changed us forever. It’s outrageous what four syllables are capable of doing. I have been at nine memorial services, and soon it will be ten. We are accustomed to think in blocks of ten. The tenth, for whatever reason, seems to carry more weight than the ninth, or any previous number. There will be more dignitaries this year wanting podium time to make their remarks. More banners than last year. More flags. But less emotion. The further from a tragedy the less we feel the pain. The old saying is that “Time plus distance equals comedy.” We now make jokes like, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Time plus distance. Someday, in the far future, a late night host will take a crack at 9/11. We won’t be around to hear it, but it’ll happen. I remember a song from my early years that whined, “Please Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go!” followed by the thwack of an arrow. Time plus distance.
Last week I attended a funeral. Among the mourners was a young soldier awaiting his second deployment. He looked sharp in his army blues. Later, he sat across from me at dinner. A few old Vietnam vets were in the restaurant, at a table behind ours. Before they left each of them approached the young soldier, saying “Good luck son, and thank you for your service.” I noticed that no one other than those vets did the same. But I’m not surprised. They were the few who understood we are still at war. For the rest, time is becoming distance. What will it be like at nine eleven’s twentieth anniversary? By the thirtieth or fortieth there will be few to no memorial services. A news commentator will note the date’s passing in his newscast. And for many, that ambivalence is already here.
But the C-17’s are still coming. And for as long as they come, and maybe longer, America is at war. I despise that footage showing bright yellow and orange flame blossoming from the top of the World Trade Center. It grieves me and aggravates some deep place in my soul. It angers me. I am a chaplain. I’m supposed to be a man of God, but that footage makes me want to grab a weapon and take my place at the wall. Of course, there is no real wall at which I may take my place. And there’s no gun big enough to rewind time and make it all go away. What’s left me is to do the best I can for my fellow citizens, and my country, every day. It’s the small steps that make the journey. It’s the single brick that makes the wall. It’s vigilance and determination that wins the war.
On September 11 I will put on my uniform and join my city as we commemorate the anniversary of the attacks. We will bow our heads and pray. We will sing patriotic songs, and salute the flag. In our city lives the family of a naval officer who lost his life in the Pentagon. They will be there to honor their husband, father and son. While there, I will scan the crowd for the young boy that thanked me for keeping him safe. But I won’t find him. He’s ten years older now. He may be in uniform protecting me. I just hope to God he isn’t on a C-17.

* Two days following the writing of this article a Chinook helicopter, with its crew, and servicemen including a compliment of Navy SEALS was shot down by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, as they came to the assistance of Army Rangers, who were taking fire. It is to their memory, and faithful service this article is dedicated. May God comfort their families, and their memory ever live among us in honored glory.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How Swift the Arrow


You have no idea
How swift the arrow flies.
You think there’s time
To do what you’ve
Always intended.

The lie is
There’s time.

Wait to caress her
Take in
Her scent
Count the freckles
Across her breasts
Feel the ivory
Of her skin
The delicate shell
Of her ear
The way the pupil
Of her eye
Contracts with light
Feel
The blades of her shoulders
Working under her flesh
The sinew of her
Body and soul.

...Wait...

There’s yet time
To lie in the dark
Listening to her
Breathe.

...Wait...

Plenty of time
To learn her
Rhythm
Her shudder and gasp.

Just do what you feel.
There’s yet time
For tender.

Plenty of time.

But what you don’t understand
Is how swift the arrow flies.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dear Readers...

I will be away from this blog for awhile. Twenty five years ago I began a book that has seen five re-writes. Recently, I have renewed my desire to finally finish and publish this work. My "home" will always be The Dashboard Poet, because poetry is my first love. I just can't balance the two at the same time. I'll check in, just to get reacquainted with the more than 900 poems I've published here. When my book is complete, I'll let you all know. I'm in Chapter 6 of this last draft. Writing, in any form is exciting. Be looking for me. I'll be out there!

~ James

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Talk to Me


Talk to me.
Tell me your story
Your ragged tale
Of gain and loss.

Show me your wounds
Those angry slashes
On your soul
Untended and unhealed.

What beach sands 
Swallowed your blood?

Into whose arms did you fall
When pelted by stones?

Talk to me
So I understand.

People like us
Are known by our scars.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Like Chaff


There is wind at my back
I have not seen
Though I have felt
Its irresistible blow.

I cling to places
And people
But the force is stronger
Than my desire to stay.

Sometimes it keens
Other times it moans
But is always consistent
In its purpose to push me on.

Were it a sentient being
I would try reason
Anything to create dialogue
But it is a powerful, controlling force.

It moved me beyond you
Out of range of your arms
Your kiss
Your sweet voice.

It blows through the craggy places
In my soul
And the howling you hear is not the wind
But the sorrow that sifts me like chaff.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Between the Minutes


When I go to slumber
In the evening’s first stillness
You are there
Waiting
Your smile an inquiry
And I assure you
I am now with you.

All is as it should be.

Tell me please
How is it
I still smell the sweetness
Of your perfume
Take in the fragrance
I have never known
From any other’s body
But yours?

Your are only seen
With eyes wide shut
Perceived as a ghost
An ethereal image
Haunting my silent world
A memory of time’s ago
The life left me
After goodbye.

So I hurry to sleep
Hoping to find you
Between the minutes
As one might hide
In gangways
Waiting.

Waiting.

And so you linger
Secreted between the minutes
Of darkness and dawn.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Maybe...

.....perhaps it's time to step back a bit. Refresh. Get a new perspective. Just thinkin'. 

james

Friday, August 4, 2017

Seriously....

Is anybody really reading this stuff? I gotta wonder. (It's been a hard day).

james

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Perceptions


Strange how shifting light
Alters the world
And it’s never the same.
Every moment
Presents a new observation
On an old theme.

Subtle refractions
Of light
And shadow
Change everything.

If you’re not looking
You’ll miss it.

You handed me coffee
This morning
Smiling
But the slightest curl
On your lip
Was a new take
On an old message.

I saw it.

How many things
Of great importance
Have I missed
Because I wasn’t looking?

Light alters perceptions
Constantly
Scrambling everything
From my environment
To matters of the heart.

I miss
What I swore I never would.

At day's end
The parade will have
Passed
While I was gazing at
Debris
In the gutter.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lioness


Your legs curl beneath you
And I imagine roots
Anchored in the banks of the Nile
Firm
Luxurious.

My hands glide your thigh
Smooth
Like teak
Planed, sanded
Oiled with touch
An anointing
Sanctified
Redemptive.

You smell of earth.
The tangy scent of growing things
Of the Africa I will never know
The Serengeti’s wild heat
Growling in hunger and pleasure.

Reclining, I map your face
In rays dappled, through palm fronds
I see the glory of the lioness
Proud
Untamed.

I cannot stay.
I am not equal to your heart
No match for your fire
Though I want to be.

You lay in my lap
Full of promise
With legs of sanded teak.