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An Average of Eighteen Veterans Commit Suicide Each Day

Mind you,
This is just an average –
The total number of veterans
Who take their own lives in a year,
Divided by three hundred sixty five.
It’s a slippery procedure.
One day,
Say Monday,
Death drags his feet,
Taking only eleven veterans.
But then comes Friday,
Or Sunday,
And the knock on the door
Is the law of averages.
Eighteen families,
Whose grief first began
When, dressed in a thin bravery,
They embraced a departing child,
Inhaled him,
As if to fix him
Deep in memory,
And then watched
As he was swallowed
By the soulless machinery of the world.
They made alters of photographs,
4H ribbons, sports trophies,
And waited for him
To come home from the war.
Of those who did come home,
Some were whole,
And some were not.
Some returned broken
In invisible places
And soon left again,
Each vanishing 
Into a more solitary terror,
Cut off from everything
Except this relentless arithmetic:
It is Saturday,
And the sword dangling above his family
Comes untethered
From all our flimsy intentions,
Plunging into their hearts.
And as the blade tears
Into the soft tissue,
They think
What they dare not say,
That, at least now,
His suffering has ended.
But the suffering of war
Does not end
With the deaths of the warriors.
These are shallow graves,
Home to troubled spirits
Who haunt those whose hearts
Will never heal.
And while an average earns no medals,
Merits no parades
And no great monuments,
There is, at least,
Our lingering rage and despair,
And the powerful people
Who go unpunished.



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