Poetry Musings

Tom Absher

Early in the 1960s I declared to my draft board that I was a Conscientious Objector and they resisted my desire to change my draft status tooth and nail.  Together we went through an arduous legal process that involved the FBI, the Justice Department, and much turmoil in my family and friends in Texas where I lived at the time.  I eventually won and set out to do my two years of alternative service (to military service) as an orderly at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.  As much as anything else, I think my decision was based on the death of my best friend from childhood, Jamie Dewar, who died in a car crash at sixteen.   I have written numerous poems about this time in my life, including the one here.

Tree of Life

When I caught my first trout,
cleaned, cooked, and ate it with my father
on a stream bank in Colorado,
I remember fingering the lace of bones
joining head to tail, that soft white tree
upon which the fish's life
had been hung.

In military school when it rained
they showed us World War II
training films: how to recognize syphilis,
how to dig a proper foxhole,
and how to be a sniper: which enemy
soldier to shoot first
when three are waling single file
in an open field.

My long descent into trouble
with family, friends, and my draft board
began on that rainy afternoon
as I watched the cross hairs
of the sniper's rifle enclose
each man's head and explode it.

Enemy soldier

Too young to grasp it,
I could only imagine each man
as someone like myself, a kid,
his best stories unlived,
still spread out ahead of him
in that field, or hidden among the branches
of the tree of bones
growing inside him.

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