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War Souvenir

by James E. Smith

I spent a week with the rat patrol
checking the road for booby traps.
Larry talked about his girl in Georgia;
he carried a picture of Lisa smiling
beneath the magnolias,
wearing a pure white dress.

We passed through a country
where we didn’t belong,
sent to preserve somebody’s freedom.

Soldiers believe there’s no greater bond
than the one between brothers in arms.

Larry told me he killed a man,
not for hate nor for glory.
His squad was ambushed one night –
Larry kept shooting into the dark,
into the heart of a stranger.

Buddhists believe we are bound
to an endless cycle of birth and rebirth.

Next morning he didn’t rejoice
when he found the twisted corpse
of the man who tried to destroy him.

Larry shouldn’t have taken his wallet;
he showed me the picture inside –
a girlfriend or wife reaching out
to touch a lotus flower,
wearing a pure white dress.

James E. Smith served during the Vietnam War as a grunt with the 25th Infantry Division. He is active with the Vietnam Veterans of America and works with incarcerated veterans. 

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