Skip to main content

poetry Selected Notes on Beauty

On this Veterans Day weekend, Kansas poet H.C. Palmer, a combat surgeon during the Vietnam war, offers the wisdom of a peacetime soldier.

printer friendly  

Selected Notes on Beauty

By H.C. Palmer

December 14, 2010, VA Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri 

Back from his tour in Afghanistan, the soldier says,

“Half my foot is gone, Doc, but I’m still in the Guard. 

I’m a peacetime soldier now.”  I take his foot, a stub

grafted at the arch, trace the spongy edges with my fingers. 

“No feeling,” he laughs, “Beautiful work, don’t you think?”  

He tells me his boot was blown off by an RPG.

They were isolated five days in a valley called Korengal, 

no LZ for a MEDEVAC, so the medic dressed his wound

then commandeered a boot from a body bag,

searching four bags for one that fit.  “That boot

smelled of rotten flesh but was a gift from Heaven.” He said. 

“That boot and a little morphine let me stand to fight.” 

I take his good foot, compare side to side, before

and after, and recalling a scripture, say, “Perhaps these feet.”

He asks, “What do you mean?” And I say, “Isaiah—

it was Isaiah who said, How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” 

H.C. Palmer, a retired Internist, served as a Battalion Surgeon with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1965-66.  His work has appeared in New Letters, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, War Literature and the Arts, Narrative Magazine, The New Mexico Poetry Review, I-70 Review, Flint Hills Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal and other journals and anthologies.  His first book of poems, Feet of the Messenger, from BkMkPress, the University of Missouri, Kansas City, released in October 2017.  He works with a veterans writing program in partnership with the Kansas City Public Libraries, The Writers Place and the Moral Injury Association of America. 

This poem first appeared in H. C. Palmer, Feet of the Messenger (Bk Mk Press, 2017)