For those who have served, and those yet to serve. Thank you.
The Shell Man
I met a man who lost his soul
On foreign soil in some foxhole
His thoughts and words were black as coal
As he let slip actions and places just to hear the words unfold
Body scarred and broken
But those were just a token
The mind was bled dry, as the words cracked open
As if he could erase memories from him if they were just spoken
He searched my face for…revulsion or fear
His hands shook and his voice cracked as he drew near
I was just a nameless person who entered his sphere
And out tumbled horrors, things hidden from those he held dear
I listened and marveled at this shattered man-child
Still alive after rucking in lands so wild
Wondered how I could help from inside my life so mild
So I shook his hand, met his eyes and then I just smiled
I thanked him for his sacrifice, for he is a dead man walking
His rushing flow of words were more than mere talking
And the things that he spoke would have had the impolite gawking
So I listened and listened as his thoughts he kept stalking
Everything that is good in a man, judging wrong from right
Was lost in this child somewhere in the night
He knows not whether to run, to hide or to fight
He fears he’ll no longer feel or see the beautiful and the light
He says that his soul is permanently black
And that from where he has been there is no turning back
He didn’t follow, he led, the leader of no pack
A one man terror show with just a rucksack.
How can anyone, anywhere return from this place
Without fear, without madness, marking his face
And how does one reach inside for that beautiful place
Turning darkness to light and those things begin to erase
I have no answer, no wisdom, no bandage for this
Only God can heal all the things inside that are amiss
But how can I enjoy a falcon, a sunrise, feel my natural bliss
When now I know that man-shells like this exist?
Nothing I can do or say can ease or repair
A man whose heart is so full of despair
The only wisdom I can try to dispense out there
Is that when you see a veteran, think about the burdens they bear.
Right wars or wrong wars, the choice is not theirs
Doing commanders bidding, their feelings they cannot air
Don’t mock them, or spit on them, or curse their heirs
For goodness sake, show them that somewhere, someone cares.
Inspiration: A newly discharged soldier returning from multiple Middle East tours that I gave a ride – he was heading to the VA in Memphis as he had nowhere to stay. His story was tragic and black. I found him in the newspaper later, arrested for crimes against his family. How utterly sad.