Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers long poem

We were the best of friends
All summer long and through the fall and winter
Cruising through the worlds we knew
On beat-up bikes in faded jeans and sneakers
Weaving in and out of high adventure
Knee deep in grassy lots down by the tracks
Hunting snakes behind the lumberyard
And fishing bream from dark canals
That flowed south from the Everglades
Blood brothers too of one
Blood mingled with the other
A friendship solid good for life
No matter what may come
But April came when we would plan to meet
Across the foot bridge after school
And fight it out to see which one
Was tough and which the loser
I waited for the bell to ring
My stomach twisting in a knot
A lump of nerves stuck down my throat
Watching the clock with dread and loathing
Dragging time like heavy chain across
The floor until the bell went off at 3:15
And my heart began to pound
An unfamiliar rhythm like a drummer’s
Roll of shame and anger tainted with a traitor’s guilt
The kind that leaves a body tense and wasted
Scared and hollow through and through
I’ve come a long way since that day
Left many names behind
Took my turn at slogging through the war
Through heat and dust through
Mud and rain in Vietnam then home again
And so I live to tell the tale
To stand here long and staring at a name
To touch the letters, feel the grooves
Cut crisp and straight in glassy stone remembering
How we’d punched each other bloody
How he’d split my lip and how I’d worked
His left eye till it puffed up red
And nearly swollen shut
He’d said he’d had enough and so I’d won
The fight but lost the friend gaining only
Sudden tears about to well up in my eyes
I turned away to hide my face and going down
As if to wash the blood and dirt away
But really started grieving at the water’s edge
Until my buddies said “Don’t let him see you doing that!”
I swear I would have begged him on my knees
If they had not been there to bolster up my arrogance
And made me stop those hot tears in their tracks
I swallowed hard and steeled my face
Looked him in the eye and sneered
“Don’t mess with me again or else,” I said
He moved away that summer after school was out
I never saw him since or heard of him again until today
His name in cool black granite old as earth
Thinking I can see him there as he doffs his helmet
Lays his rucksack and his 16 down
Standing there somewhere in green fatigues
The dusky green of tangled jungle
Far from home where he’d gone down in hostile fire
Falling through the cracks in time and out into eternity
His eyes the gray of winter skies as clear
As absolution smiling like a kid would smile
At his best friend in all the world – blood brothers to the end
But all I have to show for what it’s worth
Is sorrow of the hardest kind with nothing I can give him now
But tears held back too many years
He lifts his hand to wave good-bye then turns to join
His company moving out in column up a dusty trail
Winding through some splendid field of grass as warm as life
A day as bright as summer was once long ago

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Bill Peeler

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My wife, Noy and I are Protestant missionaries in Cambodia. We met in a border refugee camp in Thailand back in 1979 while I was a refugee relief worker. She was a refugee. I lived and worked in Mairut Refugee Camp for three years. We have three grown kids. I was drafted into the Army in 1969, served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 and honorably discharged at the end of my military obligation. Writing prose and poetry is how I document the life I'm living and how I map out the mental landscape inside my head.
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