The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

October/November 2003
FEATURE POEM
   
 

The Cost of a Thing

BY STEVE MASON


We veterans understand the cost of a thing
is how much of our lives we are willing
to exchange for it.
We learned early that what we love best
costs us most dearly and the coin of purchase
is not always the coin of the realm,
but one of time, energy, commitment, and
sacrifice.

Too often that price is payment in full.
Cemeteries are silent proof of that.
And if we charge it, the vigorous interest
is compounded daily, nightly, and
and forever.
Hospitals, alleyways, prisons,
and too many lost spouses speak loudly
of our past due accounts.

This is why I believe in Death.
Not the biblical, ". . . Behold a pale horse
and his name who rides with him is Death.
Hell follows . . .'' kind of Death, but a death
I can love.

Yes, I not only accept death, I believe in it.
Trust it. Rely on it.
Death is a promise I can count on it.
All my life (since the Nam)
I have embraced Death;
took it deep inside me.

Without death, life holds no meaning.
Death springs from my inner-life's blood
like thirty feet of gunshot artery.

The promise of death gives me comfort;
it brings me wisdom. It offers me love.
Death makes precious my time alive.
It makes me desperate to share,
to make the right choices,
to keep close the ones I love and to dismiss
the ones upon whom my time is wasted
and my best efforts are ignored, ridiculed
or worse; betrayed.

Death gifts us with an urgency to love
(and be loved) to make a positive difference
in the lives of others.
Hell yes, I believe in Death.
Death can be trusted. Life cannot.
Death is real. Life is so much illusion.

Take for example, this:
A good love song never let anyone down
and no sad song cares who's listening.
I cannot speak for you, but for me
whether that music is good or bad
I'm just gonna' keep dancin' like I was
Mister Bo Jangles whose dog up and died
and "after twenty years, he still grieves.''
I hope, I, too, can dance
and "just lightly touch down.''
Make folks ask me "Please, just dance.''
It's good to make folks feel good.
Life is too vague, too fast to figure, too uncertain
to do less than what we know to be right.

Sometimes I feel like I could type a 1049;
a compassionate reassignment to another world.
Death keeps me here (fingers on the home row)
in the ' now.'

Yeah, this is the world into which I was born;
Mozart's Piano Concerto #21,
the muzzle velocity of a French 75,
and all that's in between. Here I will die
(having lived first).

I would hate to see the closet
in which Death hangs its shame.
But it has none. Death is a shameless, indifferent,
universal constant; a patient entity as real
as gravity, and tricky as a wormhole in space.
You gotta respect death. You need not fear it.
And you best not flail against it
or give off a scent of blood.
Swim with it, baby,
just don't waste your life trying to avoid it.

Besides, Death is more patient than a Tibetan monk.
Sure, it will get around to you, swallow your time
and eat your lunch, but it cannot consume
the dream you lived by,
digest the certainty of your legacy,
or undo even the smallest good for which you will
be remembered . . .

Death may have our names and birth certificates
(had my sister's phone number)
but has neither the wit nor malice
to claim any of us who truly love.
From the moment we agree to nurture
and be nurtured, we are immortal.
Love is stronger than Death.

Yes,
Death is inside each of us
since before we were born,
White Dwarfs, Red Giants,
All expire into black holes or Supernovas.
You and I are just starstuff.

Hell, the entire constellation Sagittarius
(the Archer) just "up and died.''
Recently (relatively speaking)
that magnificent cosmic configuration
entered our galaxy, The Milky Way,
and poof! No more.
Oh sure, our planet will be dazzled
for thousands more years by its
dancing, amputated legs of light
because even at light speed the brave stars
of our dreams and fantasy will flicker on Earth
long after even the most brave Mister Bo Jangles
stops grieving . . . Death snuffed it out. Pzzzz . . .

The entire universe questions us -
How do you make something from nothing?
Hydrogen was the only element.
It cannot be replaced as pressure and heat
create all other elements into stars and life
to explode, expand and exhaust
the once only element in the conceivable universe.
Where did IT come from?
And how does Everything fit into Nothing? (wow)

And was and is God external to our Universe?
Or was God born with Time and Space, Matter
Gravity and Death?
Is everything a cancer in the peace of non-being?
If God is temporal can God die
from lack of hydrogen?
Not if God loves us.
When I was a boy I dreamt that God, too, was a boy
sound asleep under a cosmic tree dreaming of us.
I woke from my dream terrified that God might wake
for breakfast and we would all just disappear
from His dream.

But no matter my questions, no matter my feelings,
Death is no longer the death I believed in since Nam.
It is all different now.
Once upon a time, the galaxies moved
dragging time and gravity on an erratic ride.
Chaos was the way. The natural way.

But now chaos is displaced by reason.
(Man's logic).
Human nature has turned random madness
into clinical insanity.
The worst of us have re-engineered our world.
Even mutated Death.
The superstructure of our lives
is out of control.

You, me; six billion other souls hunt and peck
for sweet love crumbs on the uncertain gravel
of a shaky infrastructure. Afraid to venture
beyond the porch of our private worlds.
DEATH IS EVERYWHERE.
It does not lurk as before
in the shadows of our lives; it stalks.

Once only a forager for carrion,
which could not count and was forced to wait
until we one at a time fell lifeless to the ground,
into the sea, under an avalanche,
or into the crevice of our ever shifting Earth,
DEATH is become a voracious predator.
We ``modern'' humans have re-invented DEATH.

No longer is it a friend of a Time.
No longer a promise of peace
for those who have lived true to their natures.
Death exists like a North Korean missile
aimed at Hollywood.
It does not wait. It hunts. All our tomorrows.
It makes no distinction between young and old,
good or evil, slackard or enthusiast, phylum,
species or sub-species.
Angiosperms, human beings, black birds
and the toxic intestines of a Japanese blow-fish.
ALL PREY.

Peculiar, I always believed in God
(though never by name)
and was always ready to die
for anyone's right to believe in his or hers.

Now, I am forced to live in a world
dominated not by beliefs, but realities.
Science, not faith holds sway in the "now.''
They should be compatible.
I pray to God we pass safely through this time
when there is increasingly more truth to be found
in the writings of Nostradamos and the perspective
of Monty Python's Flying Circus . . .

So, I say to you, my brothers and my sisters
before we watch the lights go out forever,
let us continue to do what we have always done.
Remain true to our natures, do something each day
for someone else and ensure that no one takes
anything away from you.

Indifference is Death in disguise.
Let our elected leaders know that we will not accept
a slow death for our veteran community.
We will not allow this great nation
to be pro-military and anti-veteran.
A covenant with our nation
must not be unilaterally ignored by our government.
This republic is us. We do not ask. We tell.
We have earned the right to speak the truth to power.
We owe it our children and their children.

Let us dance to our own music.
If Bo Jangles could kick his heals after twenty years
and Sagittarius still shines after death,
then we should still live by our common dream;
the core of our bond--
Veterans should be respected as first among equals.

This organization demands effective delivery
of health treatment consistent from VISN to VISN.
We will not accept capricious, arbitrary decisions
on veterans benefits.
We expect that today's military men and women
need not fear desertion by the nation
for whom they fought
when the return and join the ranks of others veterans.

Never forget,
none of us failed to pay the price;
we earned this ride.
It sure as hell wasn't free
and Death ensures nobody cheats the turnstile . . .

We will not permit the government to issue
blank tokens for blood money.
We know the cost of a thing,
and because we love America it cost us most dearly.
And by God, I'd spit in the face of Death
to pay the price again.
So would you.

   

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