Charley

By Stephen Sandy b. 1934 Stephen Sandy

                                 Minnesota, May 1945                                              
                                 DMZ, September 1967



                  1
 
In Tokyo our gallant boys
dance rock-and-roll, squint eyes
wary at standing easy. They leer and reel
on a springboard tip and then
jackknife toward the electronic noise . . .
 
And Charley, when Time Inc. said he said
the President had his head
wedged about Vietnam
                   burning for honor or—who knows?
the Action he had said—
                   married the Marines.
He showered for vows on those
 
who took his word who taught him
shoot it out and shout “Yes Sir Yes Sir!”
                   and sent him out like napalm
obedient to any itchy finger.
 
I hope the fields of Minnesota gave perspective
when he moved out
                                     as to the starting line
on the command, survive, survive.
 
. . . our juiced doughboys feel their girls.
 
                  2
 
              What
did I tell you

when we met
last and it
 
“after the leeches and the food”
on a break
                   in the rain
was already up with you, Charley?
 
Mouthing the big cigar
like a gangster at the wheel . . .
 
                   cigarette between thumb and finger
                   the way we all even in junior high
                   learned not to
                   your men watching in wonder
 
                   him tasting the strange
                            (turned officer so young)
                   foreign taste
                   that smoke:     and all was dark
                          except what sparks
                   he scattered there, stubbing it out
 
What could we do for you
 
you hugging your knees
 
                   who taught you
                   to raise your voice?
 
                  3
 
No more the wide Mankato pearled with ice
                  under blue January sky
your arm around the shoulder of the friend who ran faster
no more the long hours pad in hand composing
                  reasons for your belief
a belief in fathers has no reason
 
no more the simple passion of going first
your hatless straightness, the struggle, the deep worry,
                  the dark Africa of being alive in a country
                  run by chiefs without tribes
no more of all that, only your
                  brief beauty in many hearts
in a time when fathers bury their sons, and you
                  surrounded, cut down
in a war you were fated never to see,
                  blinded by love for all men.

Stephen Sandy, “Charley” from The Thread. Copyright © 1998 by Stephen Sandy. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: The Thread (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Stephen Sandy b. 1934

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Stephen  Sandy

Biography

Stephen Sandy studied poetry with Robert Lowell and Archibald MacLeish, earned a PhD from Harvard University, and traveled to Japan on a Fulbright Visiting Lectureship. He is the author of more than a half dozen collections of poetry and has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Council on the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

Stephen Sandy’s collections include Riding to . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.