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poetry Vigilance

New Hampshire poet Jane Philips Meneghini writes eloquently of a war veteran's return “with pain and secrets.” Its title derives partly from a billboard seen outside Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., that boasted “Global Vigilance, Reach and Power for America.”

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By Jane Philips Meneghini

When I see you now
all brawny arms and shoulders
wearing your tattoos like armor
I remember a night when you were small.
We stood by a window in the old house
watching winter’s first snowflakes swirl
through the beam of light over the barn.
You were still barely tall enough
for your chin to clear the sill.

I believed you and I were being blessed
by the same vision, that promise snow makes
to transform the earth like grace.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I said.
“Yeah!” you replied. “It’s like flak!”
You took aim with your finger gun—
rat-a-tat   rat-a-tat- tat-tat-—
against enemies invisible
that threatened the air.

I did not see your future in a flash
you air-dropped into Yemen and
whatever other places you cannot tell
the awful violence that happened there
through you or around you or within you
to send you home with pain and secrets
in your eyes. I only sensed for one dark instant
that your whole life would become a battle
fighting your way back to an ancient truce.
I loved you fiercely then.
I love you fiercely now.

Jane Philips Meneghini writes prose and poetry in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in The Sow’s Ear, Ad Hoc Monadnock, Writes of Passage, Private Places and Entertainment Times.  This poem is inspired by and dedicated to her eldest grandson.  Thank you to the Keene Library Poets, who asked the right critical questions of the first draft.