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

January/February 2004
FEATURE
   
 

A New Year's Revolution

BY STEVE MASON, POET LAUREATE


The curse of beauty is that it is fleeting.
The curse of genius is loneliness.
There is much comfort in being average
and great joy in being one of the folks
who just live, take spouses, raise kids,
die and are buried by ordinary friends
who cry at the funeral
and wonder what they will have for supper
and how the Nasdaq will do tomorrow. 

Sure, I'd like to play guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn,
sing like Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra,
play ball like Deion Sanders or Brett Favre
have a woman whose kisses are more sweet
than the crystallized sugar glaze on a Krispy Kreme,
but like you I am blessed with being who I am
a simple person in a complex world
who watched the clone of Dick Clark
bring in the New Year at Times Square
and wondered what it was I would change this year; About me.
about our world
and what in hell
I was singing about
since a lot of ordinary folks (like you or me)
might not even be in the phone book next year. 

When candy was a nickel and thirty was old,
I made New Year's Resolutions I could never keep
about pubescent actions I can never write about.
By the time candy was a dime and I was an avid reader of antiquities,
sports pages and a listener of old men,
I knew that Time required movement and record
And that without clocks and calendars
there would be no New Year to celebrate
and with a Farmers Almanac
Ancient Egypt would have had little need for High Priests and
Homeland Security today would need more guns. 

It's all about rotation and revolution
key words in American common usage.
We 'rotated' from Nam, we 'revolted' against King George.
Astronomically, rotation is the spinning on an axis
like Earth rotates one turn on an axis of 23 degrees
in a 24-hour day as it 'revolves' around the sun in an orbit
of 365 days (on our Roman calendar).
I was sick the day they must have explained how the moon's
period of rotation is the same as its period of revolution
and that's why we only see one side of our only satellite.
(I still can't visualize it).
Mars is neat though, it has two moons
and one rotates in the opposite direction. I can relate to that.  

Being a Leap Year baby, I'll be 16 birthdays old this year.
I'm very sensitive about how my Italian ancestors
could have been so sloppy
as to need to correct by one full day every four years
their bad math (on my birthday, yet!). 

But what can you say about an Empire
that ruled the Pax Romana
and didn't even have zero as a whole number?
Maybe they didn't believe in nothing.
(That's a joke, Marines!) 

There are lots of calendars and many ways to celebrate.
I was born on a Thursdaynamed for the Norse god Thor.
I was born in the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese Calendar.
On the Mayan Calendar
(accurate to within minutes over a ten-thousand-year period)
I was born under the sign of the Blue Galactic Monkey.
(Cool, I am guided by the power of vision). 

Sooner or later each of us runs into someone who believes
in astrology as a natural science
and we discover (like it or not) our signs and horoscopes,
personalities, futures, as well as who and what to avoid.
"This is the Age of Aquarius" on the juke box
and if a pretty girl at the singles bar asked this young man
what his 'sign' was, I didn't say crossed railroad ties,
I said I was a Pisces with a Sagittarius rising
(and that's not all)! 

In Medieval Europe the surgeons didn't operate
if the planets were not in proper alignment.
Not so bad if they were going to lance a boil,
not so good if your leg needed to be amputated.
In these times on this recorded date in our history,
we celebrate the 2004th elliptical orbiting of our star
since the death of Jesus Christ by singing Auld Lang Syne
About old acquaintances and other sad stuff,
scream and kiss our dates, spouses, and in general
drink ourselves into an acceptable oblivion
more dark than the hole in which we find ourselves
resolving privately to stop digging in. 

These individual pacts we call our New Year's Resolutions;
a kind of renaissance for personal well-being.
We quit smoking. We drop some tonnage. We join AA.
Hey, AAA if we're lousy drivers of old clunkers.
We swear away all that the self-defeating woes
from bad marriages to lousy jobs
that find us at sobering shoulder-depth
in the hole we have dug the past year. 

All of this makes us feel good
until we need a cigarette next morning
and a 'hair of the hound.'
And besides, like the Brooklyn Dodgers of old,
we say after two hours of self-deprivation,
"Wait'll next year!!"
There's plenty of time, right?
Wrong, if you're a Nam vet. 

The one thing we don't have is time on our side.
Not too many revolutions of the sun left for any of us.
We don't need a 'gut-check' this year.
We need some 'reality testing.'
This calendar year may be the 'bell' lap for many of us.
At best, none of us will be healthier or younger next year. 

I say, we need a New Year's Revolution.
Not a resolution, a revolution.
Not one we make together. One we make individually.
We're moving through Time and Space
at 18 miles per second, fellow traveler.
This we do together like folks in a falling elevator. 

The revolution I speak to comes from inside us.
Each of us. A solitary commitment to revolt
against the tyranny of ignorance,
the apathy of complacence,
 the acceptance of the 'way of things.'

Consider this:
When I was a young boy I played soldier games.
All the kids did.
I went to Vietnam as an Army officer
who still liked the cartoon quality of war,
until the first time a guy's head didn't pop back up
in the next frame after being flattened.
The comical innocence of my childhood play
was catapulted like a French cow
over the castle wall in a Monty Python movie. 

War isn't two dimensional to a combat veteran.
It's three, maybe four.
It has a lingering, burnt copper taste and smell
not present in the dry printer's ink
on the colorful, flat pages of the friendly comics
we hoarded or traded with kids in my neighborhood.
It wasn't that I wasn't prepared for real life as a boy.
I just wasn't ready for real Death.
I mean who could sell you a ten-cent comic book
that only had two pages and a torn cover? 

I don't have a clue where those comic books are now.
But I know where my war is . . .
And you know where yours is.
It's Peace we can't find. 

I am a poet, yes. I know that words are concepts.
We think with our language.
Strange, we have a word for peace,
but no concept of it.
Perhaps, we do not have a concomitant instinct for it. 

Harmony is a far better word.
We have the concept and the nature to understand it.
Harmony is a mathematical term for balance.
Our culture, our world, is discordant.
None knows this better than a veteran. 

There are some 5,000 species of mammals on this planet,
possibly three million species of insects,
in our oceans and seas only God knows the forms of life.
We all revolve around the same star.
I refuse to die believing it is right that ALL life
should be in the hands of old men who make no music
and have no dreams. 

I once wrote,
"Rather than lead one million boys to war,
I would prefer to die alone for peace." 

So, I say to you, brothers and sisters all,
if this new year should find many of us as old
as we will ever get,
then why not make this last turn a personal revolution?
One that will honor those who have gone before,
those who presently 'stand and deliver' around the globe,
and those who will be born into the world we will depart.
It will honor us all if you did.
And only you know how to do it.
It is truly your 'turn.' 

As for me, as I write on January 1st, 2004,
I will adjust my revolution to a higher orbit
and pray I do not stand alone,
but live in harmony with all who travel with me.
 

   

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