Can our hearts hold the enormity of our losses?
Maybe veterans writing can help us find the way.
On Memorial Day, our nation pauses to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. OneJustice is privileged to work with and serve members of the military community through our Justice Bus trips that bring essential legal assistance to veterans living in rural and isolated areas of the state. It is a deeply moving experience to serve those who have served our country and made it home. And today – on Memorial Day – we try to comprehend the depth of the loss of those men and women who also served and did not come home.
But perhaps this loss simply is incomprehensible, unimaginable. Maybe it is right and just that the emotions and impact are too large for our minds and hearts to hold. And perhaps it is fitting that we are overwhelmed by attempting to express it – and our hearts broken open in the trying.
In honor of all those who have lost their lives serving our country, we offer the powerful words of veterans – who, in writing their wartime experiences, perhaps offer all of us some way of comprehending the enormity of these losses.
All creatures have the same source as we have.
Saint Francis of Assisi
The Saint Francis Satyr Butterfly
A reclusive small brown butterfly,
white and yellow stigmatic suns
deployed along its wing ridges,
Saint Francis’s Satyr – christened
after the 12th century Italian soldier
and POW turned mystic –
secretes itself, miraculously,
in 10 by 10 kilometers
of the 251 square mile brash
of Fort Bragg – exact coordinates classified –
beyond which – we know this much –
it has gone undetected. Shy, endangered,
preferring anonymity, it hides
in high artillery impact domains –
life often chooses death –
the fires triggered by bombardment.
It wears Marsh camouflage,
resembles in its favored habitat –
blasted sedge and beaver ruins –
a tiny standard issue
Advanced Combat Helmet.
Parsed from the chrysalis,
rent too soon from its dream of living,
the satyr blazes in desperate glory
but three or four days,
in its imaginal stage,
then tenders its life in writ sacrifice.
Its gorgeous numbers dwindle.
The caterpillar has never been seen.
We accept, on faith, metamorphosis.
— Joseph Bathanti, Poet Laureate of North Carolina
When award-winning poet, Appalachian State University professor and advocate for literacy Joseph Bathanti was named North Carolina’s poet laureate in October 2012, he announced plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry. To celebrate Veterans Day in 2012, Bathanti wrote this poem for veterans, families of veterans and for everyone who honors America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. We are honored to share it with the OneJustice network in observance of Memorial Day.
For more writing by veterans and members of the military community, we offer two additional sources: