When a Factory’s Life Ends

Foul gray smoke once belched
from tall red brick stacks
A bittersweet sign of life–
the old factory was still working

The smoke has now ended
along with the noisy metal-banging
that kept men busy
from sun up till sun down

The iron gates are chained shut
Never again, will they greet the dark faces
of hardened men with stale breath
from strong black coffee and cigarettes

Too easy to blame, too many strikes
for the factory’s foreboding silence
but hungry workers elsewhere, willing
to work for much less
and customers needing less metal
are just as much the reason
why the dark faces have grown much darker

The mill is history–
a cold, lifeless archeological ruin
So are the paychecks that paid the bills
giving small consolation to the two thousand men
laughing at each other’s lame jokes
dreaming of days
they wouldn’t have to work so hard

Now that day has come, and
their dreams and jokes both have ended.

The Slow Economic Bleeding Takes Its Toll

So many small towns
Down on their luck
Fallen, and
unable to get back up
No way to revive opportunity

I’ve seen their faces…
all those workers, young and old
losing it all, including their dreams
More than they ever imagined–
gone, like a vanishing ghost
leaving them cold and empty

Times have been tougher
like the Great Depression
but the slow economic bleeding
is taking its toll everywhere
Hope is still out there, but
wrapped in unfamiliar clothes

A Soldier’s Last Songs

the eighty-two year old man
with the chalky white skin
and the permanently folded hands
lying in the casket
was the only one to know
the true reality at hand

his ability to see, no longer blinded
by his eyes, and other senses
his mind no longer gets in the way of his spirit
which waited all these years for release
he sees, in a different way, the shadowy figures
lurking, and flying about the room
like ancient winged creatures
right out of the alchemists’ Rosarium philosophorum

visitors paying last respects pour into the room
the shadowy figures multiple in number
like a mushrooming chorus
singing one familiar song after another
like the song of the children
where sons and daughters stand over their dad’s body
crying to be held just one more time
like the song of the grandchildren
wishing one more visit
to get to know the father of their parents
like the song of the wife
begging her husband to return to their bed
that tonight she might not sleep alone
there are no brothers or sisters
so this song, for now, goes unsung

then, the song of the friends, mostly older
streaming past the open casket, offering prayers
wondering when their time will come
among them, the man’s veteran friends
who sing the final song, the soldier’s song
reminding all of death’s disinterested stare

tears fill every eye in the room
as the haunting sound of taps
washes into the parlor
bringing with it
a legion of uniformed men
young and old
not from just one war, but all wars
one by one, they march past the casket
and with their voices lift up the man
and take him home

In Memory of Marie’s Father, Jack Keck


Charlie is all we think about, night and day.
There’s just one job over here: kill Charlie.
Hate is a terrible thing, but
it’s better than being deathly afraid.
Doesn’t take long to realize that.
War: kill or be killed, and that’s it.
Not very complicated, really.

The latest batch of boots just landed.
They’re just kids, with
no fuck-ing idea what’s in store for them.
369 days ago, I was a boot.
Seems like an eternity ago.
Stupid me. I enlisted, thinking
it can’t be all that bad.
What was I fuck-ing thinking?

You’re never ready for this hell.
There’s no easing into war with Charlie.
First impressions stick forever.
When I arrived in-country,
we hovered base camp, waiting
for 14 body bags to be loaded onto a Huey;
ironically the same number of boots on our chopper.
This place makes you superstitious.
14 has been permanently erased from my vocabulary.

A week ago, some bug started
working it’s way through the company.
Nothing brings any relief from the puking and shitting.
It just runs its course in 4 to 5 days,
leaving you limp as a rag.
The honey-dippers burn shit all around the clock.

In basic, you learn lots of stuff, but
they don’t tell you how awful this place smells;
how the odor of burned flesh lingers
for days in your mind, and
how you never get accustomed
to the smell of death.

And, they never tell you that you keep seeing things;
things nobody should ever see, even once.
But boys from Wapakoneta, Ohio, Sandy, Texas,
and other places nobody ever heard of, see things,
like what a claymore mine does to a man, or
what it’s like to see a man’s head explode like a ripe pumpkin
when hit dead-on with fire from a VC AK-47.
And, no amount of training prepares you to watch
a buddy hold another in his arms, rock him gently,
pretending to be the dying soldier’s mother.

Oh yeah, add me to the list of BK amputees.
The docs couldn’t salvage my lower right leg.
Tomorrow, they move me to the 29th Evac Hospital in Can Tho.
Fuck-ing Charlie mortar fire.
But I was lucky.
14 of my buddies went home in pine boxes.

Parting Thoughts

Note: This is a fictious poem. It’s empathy poetry
and nothing more. When you think about life, nothing
is more creative than birth and death.


Not sure what I thought dying would be like.
Had some idea from losing Mom, my grandparents,
several aunts and uncles, and some friends.
It’s completely different when it’s you–
when it’s your guts being eaten alive
by the same hideous monster that ate Mom’s.

I never knew how vast a white ceiling could be.
Staring at the one in my room for hours on end
has brought this sense of vastness to mind.
I’m obsessed with this image of total whiteness.
Is this my life epiphany?
Is this what it’s like on the other side?
Why does the ceiling seem so vast and unlimited
when my life feels so small and insignificant?

The pain isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
The drugs keep me from parts of my pain
I don’t want to know.
Because cancer kills you,
you’d think it would hurt more.
Maybe the pain will get worse,
as I get closer to the end.
It’s funny, as long as there’s pain,
I know I am still alive.
I wish I could hold onto my pain forever.
I can’t.

No matter what they do,
I can’t get comfortable…
with the cancer, the fear it ignites, and
not knowing when I take my last breath.
The cancer feels like a foreign object inside me.
It didn’t come from me, and it’s not mine.
When I’m angry,
it feels like a burglar breaking into my house,
stealing my most prized possessions.

The best part about dying is the dreams.
I never thought there would be anything
I’d like about dying.
They’re much more vivid now.
In many ways, more so than my life.
It’s strange, some mornings I wake up,
wanting only to drop back off to sleep
and rejoin my dreams.

When you’re healthy,
you can’t feel your internal organs.
When you’re dying, you know they’re there.
I never thought about my liver, spleen, or pancreas.
When they’re filled with cancer,
you can’t stop thinking about them.

Often I think I want to die a noble death–
one more noble than the life I’ve lived. But
is nobility really significant at a time like this?
Is it supposed to make dying worthwhile?
We never stop wanting life to be
the way we want it to be.
Not even when we’re dying.

The worst part is the waiting.
I never liked waiting for anything.
I hate it, especially now, and
not knowing what waits on the other side.
The waiting gives you plenty of time
to reflect upon your life.
But not in the way I want to.
It’s amazing how feelings of anger, regret, and sadness
haunt everything coming to mind about my life.
Even my happiest times.

You know…
I can’t bear to mention the people in my life–
those I’m about to leave behind.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t.
For me, that’s the hardest part.

Why does life have to feel so unfinished now–
so incomplete,
like a poem you don’t know how to end?

Kissing Away the Bark from Your Lips

Why does your voice bark anger at the world
while sitting in golden morning sunlight?
What atrocities have your eyes witnessed,
haunting your soul,
causing your every utterance to cloud the sun,
foment the peace lingering in the air, and
rape fledgling flowers of their innocence?

If I could take it all away, I would,
leaving just the hushing waves washing over you,
carrying your hurt and anger far out to sea.
If I could, I’d kiss away the bark from your lips,
leaving only a sweet trusting smile lasting a lifetime.